TSB Watchlist says Fatigue is a Problem for the Freight Rail Industry

By Clinton Marquardt - Sleep & Fatigue Specialist

October 31, 2016

cyberloafing, fatigue and productivity

rail-accidentThe TSB 2016 Watchlist has been released and fatigue in freight rail is a top concern. The TSB has a list of 23 investigations where fatigue was a contributing factor or a risk for the accident. I checked the list, and I am modestly proud to say that I worked on many of these investigations during my tenure with the TSB. It’s nice to see that the TSB’s efforts have paid off and that they have enough data to finally make sure that fatigue gets the attention it deserves.

Here is the link to the Rail Fatigue Watchlist justification: http://tsb-bst.gc.ca/eng/surveillance-watchlist/rail/2016/rail-04.asp.

While there is still a lot of work to do, the transportation industry is on the right track. There are regulations and guidelines to reduce fatigue related risks and most of the companies understand that safety can be compromised by impairments due to fatigue. Some of the more progressive companies even understand that there are great rewards to reducing fatigue and ensuring that employees sleep well.

A research group from Singapore found that people who don’t sleep enough waste more time surfing the internet at work[1]. This cyberloafing was also a big past time for people who did not sleep well. The take away here is that if you want employees to use their time at work efficiently, you should find ways to help them sleep more and better.

One of the causes of sleep loss and poor sleep is insomnia. One in 4, that’s 25% of the workforce has experienced insomnia and it is costing the US $63.2 billion dollars a year in lost productivity[2]. Cyberloafing can be a costly pastime!

You might think that people with insomnia would just call in sick after a bad night and that sick leave would be the main contributor to the $63 billion. While people with sleep problems do call in sick, they also pull themselves out of bed and report for work just to make sure they get paid. But at work they are not as productive as their well-rested colleagues. They are so tired that every insomniac costs their employer 7.8 days of lost productivity every year. If you average that out, it is about $2,280 per insomniac per year in lost productivity.

Identifying the problematic sleepers in your workplace can be challenging.  Asking them to come forward so you can help them isn’t likely to happen. Most people are not comfortable openly reporting their health concerns to employers. Instead, I suggest raising awareness through approaches like formal fatigue training, informal educational sessions and material distributed throughout your workplace. Consider handing out sleep awareness questionnaires that get people thinking about their own sleep and whether it needs to be improved. I have a “sleep problem screening tool” that suits this purpose and I would be happy to share it. Send me a note if you would like it.


[1] Wagner, D., Barnes, C., Lim, V., Ferris, D. (2012). Lost sleep and cyberloafing: Evidence from laboratory and a daylight saving time quasi-experiment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(5), 1068-1076.

[2] Insomnia costing U.S. workforce $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity, study shows. American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2011 News Archive, September 1: http://www.aasmnet.org/articles.aspx?id=2521

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