April 19, 2011

The FAA is now taking corrective action to fix the real air traffic controller sleep problem — the work schedule [“FAA to alter minimum time off for controllers,” news story, April 18]. More than 20 years of research into shift work and rotating work schedules tells us that working a backward rotation (day to night to evening) or a compressed schedule (40 hours in fewer than five days) causes a sleep debt that impairs physical and mental functioning. These adverse work schedules deny workers the opportunity to sleep, which is a biological necessity.

Occupational sleep deprivation is a source of errors, accidents and injuries on the job and commute. As an occupational sleep scientist, I view these events as systemwide preventable hazards rather than the result of a few bad apples. Public safety demands that work schedules be changed.

Jeanne M. Geiger-Brown, Baltimore

The writer is co-director of the Work and Health Research Center.