Technical Reports

Work Schedules and Sleep Patterns of Railroad Dispatchers

  • 01
  • Apr
  • 2007
AUTHOR: Judith Gertler and Alex Viale
SUBJECT: Human Factors
KEYWORDS: Railroad dispatcher, fatigue, alertness, shiftwork, extra board, relief job, sleep disorder, assistant
ABSTRACT: This report presents the results of a study designed to characterize the work/rest schedules and sleep patterns of U.S. railroad dispatchers and to examine the relationship between these schedules and levels of alertness of the individuals working the schedules. The study methodology was a survey of a random sample of currently working U.S. railroad dispatchers who completed a background survey and kept a daily log for 2 weeks. Railroad dispatchers are a predominantly healthy middle-aged male population, but 14 percent are women. Dispatchers work as either a trick dispatcher, subject to the limitations of the Hours of Service Law, or an assistant chief dispatcher who oversees the trick dispatchers. All dispatching jobs have a 40-hour nominal workweek, but assistant chief dispatchers average more than 40 hours per week. Dispatchers are a shiftwork population. Many are subject to working nights and a variable work schedule, making it difficult to get adequate quality sleep. Overall, 39 percent of dispatchers get 6 or fewer hours of sleep while 29 percent of U.S. adults get this amount of sleep. Across all three shifts, dispatcher alertness on workdays peaked after arrival at work and then declined through the workday. The decline was greatest for those working third shift.