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Study: Overnight Metro workers need more sleep

Thursday - 12/6/2012, 2:27pm  ET

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Fatigue is the biggest threat to safety among Metro's train and bus operators and maintenance workers, according to a new study released by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

And employees who work the night shift seem to suffer most from fatigue, which could lead to accidents, the study of Metro employees' sleeping habits found.

Dr. Steven Hursh, president of the Institutes for Behavior Resources, which conducted the sleep study, says if sleep depravation lowers performance below 70 percent, the risk of mistakes and accidents increases.

"A lot of night work, which deprives you of opportunities to get a good night sleep, is going to be the major driver of fatigue," says Hush.

He recommends that Metro better train employees about when and how much they sleep. Drivers and maintenance workers are already limited in how many consecutive hours they work. Training should also help workers to manage stimulants like caffeine to make sure it doesn't interfere with sleep.

Sixty-seven drivers fell asleep at the wheel of a metro bus during the last two years. Metro conducted the study with the goal of improving its safety record.

Only 37 of Metro's than 537 train operators and 2,480 bus drivers work the night shift. But others come in at 3 a.m., a time when Hursh says the body usually wants to be asleep.

WMATA plans to further study how to help those who work the night shift or begin in the early morning hours.

Hursh says it's important that those workers get eight hours of sleep and they need more than eight hours of time off between shifts.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)