WASHINGTON - Reports of sleeping air traffic controllers highlight a long-known and often ignored hazard: Workers on night shifts can have trouble concentrating and even staying awake.
"Government officials haven't recognized that people routinely fall asleep at night when they're doing shift work," said Dr. Charles Czeisler, chief of sleep medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
Czeisler said studies show that 30 percent to 50 percent of night-shift workers report falling asleep at least once a week while on the job.
So the notion that this has happened only a few times among the thousands of controllers "is preposterous," he said in a telephone interview.
In a sign of growing awareness of the problem, the Federal Aviation Administration said Saturday it was changing air traffic controllers' work schedules most likely to cause fatigue. The announcement comes after the agency disclosed another incident in which a controller fell asleep while on duty early Saturday morning at a busy Miami regional facility. According to a preliminary review, there was no impact to flight operations, the FAA said.
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