Key workers falling asleep worries safety experts

NEW YORK - A deadly early-morning bus crash. A late-night silence from air traffic control. Commercial pilots nodding off in the sky. Security guards caught snoozing at a nuclear power plant. Transportation Security Administration agents catching 40 winks while on duty. They are not just isolated incidents of employee fatigue but arguably the sign of a troubling trend: people in critical positions falling asleep on the job, CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports.

"This is showing up in a lot of industries - not just the airline industry," said Dr. Lawrence Epstein, a sleep and safety expert. "We're seeing it in truckers, we're seeing it in bus drivers and other mission-critical industries."

Air traffic controller admits to sleeping on job

A CBS News review found five government reports from recent years highlighting the dangers of key employees nodding off while at work, like a massive 2004 train crash in Texas that killed three and released poisonous gas into the air. Investigators found "the engineer and conductor were likely asleep at the controls," identifying "employee fatigue as a significant factor in many train accidents."

Air traffic chief resigns after series of lapses

CBS News discovered a post from last June into the Federal Aviation Safety Database by an anonymous pilot who wrote "more than half the pilots I fly with inadvertently fall asleep during flight at least one time per day."

Overall, the National Transportation Safety Board says "operator fatigue" has been tied to 39 major accidents involving planes, trains, buses and big rigs in the last 15 years, killing or injuring more than 1,000 people.

"I think it's getting more frequent because we have more and more people doing shift work than they used to - up to 25 to 35 percent of the American work force does shift work and this has them working irregular hours," Epstein said.

An alarming wake up call, growing louder by the day.

  • Armen Keteyian

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