According to National Transportation Safety Board, fatigue and/or sleep deprivation may be a contributing factor in 30 to 40 percent of all heavy truck crashes. Good sleep, including consistent sleep patterns, help employees stay alert while on the job.

Will Flower

Drivers, helpers and equipment operators in the waste and recycling industry maintain tough schedules. We are up extra early, perform physically demanding jobs and work in all types of weather conditions. We need to be alert all the time and a poor night’s sleep can result in a challenging day.

The National Sleep Foundation estimates that more than two-thirds of American adults have sleep-related problems and that 23 percent have actually fallen asleep while driving. Evidence from crash reports and self-reports on sleep behavior and driving performance indicate that drivers who are sleep deprived face a greater risk of accidents. Three groups of people are especially at risk of accidents due to drowsiness:

  1. Young people (ages 18 to 30), especially males.
  2. People with untreated sleep apnea syndrome (SAS) and narcolepsy.
  3. Drivers who work long hours and those who work at night or irregular hours (shift workers).

Sleep is a valuable commodity that can be lost for a number of reasons including:

  • Staying up late using the computer or smart phone.
  • Sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea.
  • Watching sporting events or movies.
  • Changing work schedules.
  • Starting work at extremely early hours in the morning.

Know the Signs

Many sleep-deprived people erroneously believe that they can function well with only a few hours of sleep per night over a lengthy period. But sleep deprivation has significant negative effects on mental and physical tasks, including driving. Operating a heavy piece of equipment or driving a garbage truck while drowsy is especially dangerous as sleep deprivation negatively affects a person’s ability to pay attention and slows reaction time.

The following are some basic signs that a driver may be sleep deprived:

  • Yawning or blinking frequently.
  • Difficulty remembering the past few stops on a route.
  • Missing a turn.
  • Drifting from your lane or hitting rumble strips on the side of the road.

Combating Sleep Deprivation

The National Sleep Foundation offers a number of tips to improve sleep:

  • Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning.
  • Make your sleeping habits consistent. Your body works best with a consistent sleep pattern. Try to get to bed around the same time and get 8 hours of sleep.
  • Sleep in a dark room. Research shows that people sleep best in complete darkness.
  • Address Your Sleeping Disorder. Medical professionals can treat insomnia and sleep apnea; talk to your doctor if you are excessively tired and cannot sleep.
  • Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, dark, and relaxing environment, which is neither too hot nor too cold.
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable.  Remove all TVs and computers from the bedroom.
  • Avoid large meals before bedtime.

Drowsy driving is a serious problem that leads to thousands of crashes each year. Managers and supervisors should talk to their employees about the dangers associate with sleep deprivation.  Such training will help increase awareness of the issue. Drivers must make a commitment to get the sleep needed to stay alert. Importantly, drivers with medical conditions, such as sleep apnea should seek proper medical attention to address their health issue.

Next month’s Safety Brief will focus on container safety.

Will Flower is the Vice President of Corporate and Public Affairs at Winters Bros. Waste Systems.  Will has 34 years of experience in the area of solid waste management and environmental protection.  He has held operational and executive leadership positions at the Director’s Office of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Waste Management, Inc., Republic Services. Inc. and Green Stream Recycling. 

Share your safety tip. Submit your suggestions to Will Flower at [email protected]