Inadequate sleep and fatigue may contribute to serious industrial accidents. Read on to learn more about the dangers of sleep deprivation.

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The Work Hazards of Sleep Deprivation: Lessons from 5 Industrial Accidents

Prevalence and Danger of Sleep Deprivation

According to the National Sleep Foundation, there’s a relationship between work-related injuries and sleep deprivation. Experts recommend seven to nine hours of sleep for adults, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports approximately 35% of adults get less than seven hours of sleep each night.

Sleep deprivation doesn’t only impact work productivity, but it may also affect the safety of the people around you. Sleep deprivation impairs your overall judgment in the following ways:

  • Lower attention span
  • Lower working memory capacity
  • Less efficient long term memory retrieval
  • Less vigilant
  • More prone to making errors
  • Slower reaction time
  • Difficulty using new information for complex decision making
  • Poorer critical thinking skills

These cognitive impairments lead to poor decision making. Studies also show that sleep deprivation increases the chances of workplace injuries.

In fact, one large study shows that workers with sleep issues are two times more likely to die in work accidents. In high-risk jobs, sleep deprivation isn’t just dangerous for the workers themselves—history shows us that sleep deprivation can also lead to disastrous outcomes for everyone else.

1. Oil Tanker Spills: Exxon Valdez Oil Tankers

On March 24, 1989, one of Exxon Valdez’s oil tankers hit the Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef in Alaska. Over a few days, about 10.8 million gallons of oil spilled into the water affecting over 1,000 miles of shoreline.

A report from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council outlines five possible causes of this industrial accident. Among the five possible causes outlined, two identify sleep deprivation and fatigue as a possible contributing factor.

The first possible cause is a failure to properly maneuver the vessel due to excessive workload or fatigue. Other reports claim that the third mate in charge of driving the vessel was napping because it was the only time he could rest after a 16-hour shift.

Another reason was the company’s failure to provide a well-rested crew to support the leaders of the vessel. During the crash, the crew just got off a 22-hour shift of loading oil into the cargo tank.

Many experts believe that this was one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in history. Not only did it lead to the death of over 250,000 animals, but it also damaged the livelihood of the locals who were dependent on tourism and fishing.

2. Space Shuttle Accident: The Challenger

Space rocket launching | Real Industrial Accidents Caused By Sleep Deprivation | accidents at work
On January 28, 1986, the Challenger was set to launch from the Kennedy Space Center. 73 seconds after the launch, the shuttle exploded and killed all of the crew members on board.

According to a report from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the primary cause of the explosion was a failure in the pressure seal in one of the joints of the ship. However, NASA’s human factor analysis report reveals that two managers only had two hours of sleep before starting work at 1:00 a.m.

The report admits these excessive work hours may compromise work performance, especially when quick and critical decision making becomes necessary. Unfortunately, these factors may have contributed to one of the worst tragedies for the American space program.

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3. Nuclear Power Plant Accidents: Chernobyl and Three Mile Island

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is located in the north of Ukraine. On April 26, 1986, there was a steam explosion and fires which led to the release of at least 5% of the radioactive reactor core.

The World Nuclear Association reports that a range of human errors was a major contributor to the explosion that started at around 1:30 a.m. Experts consider the Chernobyl accident as the worst nuclear disaster in history, costing countless lives and billions of dollars.

Another nuclear power plant accident happened on March 28, 1979, in the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania. According to several reports, things started to go wrong at around 4:00 a.m. when workers failed to notice the plant running low on coolant.

This resulted in the reactor core overheating and almost causing a meltdown. Unlike Chernobyl, this accident was contained within the plant.

In both cases, these accidents happened very early in the morning when sleep deprivation was likely. Remember, when you’re sleep-deprived, you’re less vigilant and more likely to overlook important details.

4. Airplane Crashes: American Airlines Flight 1420

An American Airline flight from Dallas to Little Rock crashed on June 1, 1999. During landing, the plane’s spoiler didn’t deploy automatically, and the crew failed to release them manually.

This caused the plane to overshoot the runway and collide with a light structure in a nearby runway. The impact of the crash broke the plane into several sections.

Unfortunately, 11 people died in the crash and injured over a hundred passengers and crew members. A report from the National Transportation Safety Board identifies bad weather conditions and impaired performance due to fatigue as probable causes of this accident.

5. Everyday Vehicle Accidents

One study shows that people who had less than four hours of sleep are 15 times more likely to be responsible for car crashes compared to drivers who had enough sleep. These drivers are also at a higher risk for car accidents which result in death.

On top of that, drivers on the road for three hours or longer without breaks in between have a greater risk of crashing their cars. So sleep deprivation can also negatively impact any industrial job that involves driving a vehicle.

Being awake doesn’t necessarily mean you’re alert and ready for work. Sleep deprivation (and its accompanying fatigue) can put your safety at risk, so it’s best to get seven to nine hours of sleep every night.

If you’re interested in improving the quality of your sleep, an integrative health specialist may be able to help you. So contact one today!

Have you had any close calls because of sleep deprivation? How do you cope with sleep deprivation? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.

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Sources:

The Relationship Between Sleep and Industrial Accidents – National Sleep Foundation

10 Sleep Deprivation Hazards on the Worksite – American Safety Council

Sleep-deprived people more likely to have car crashes – ScienceDaily