Technical Reports

Work Schedules and Sleep Patterns of Railroad Signalmen

  • 01
  • Oct
  • 2006
AUTHOR: Judith Gertler and Alex Viale
KEYWORDS: Railroad signalman, fatigue, work schedule, sleep pattern, sleep disorder
ABSTRACT: This report presents the results of a research study designed to characterize the work schedules and sleep patterns of U.S. railroad signalmen and to examine the relationship between these schedules and level of alertness of the individuals working the schedules. The study methodology was a survey of a random sample of currently working U.S. railroad signalmen who completed a background survey and kept a daily log for 2 weeks. Signalmen are a predominantly healthy middle-aged male population. They work either construction or maintenance jobs. Both groups get the same amount of nighttime sleep, but the construction group reports better sleep quality and better daytime alertness. This difference is likely due to the unscheduled work periods and nighttime calls that maintenance jobs entail, as well as the start time variability of maintenance jobs. During the study period, nearly two-thirds of the maintenance signalmen had at least one unscheduled work period. Over 50 percent of signalmen get less than 7 hours of sleep on work nights, while 39 percent of U.S. adults get this amount. Possible explanatory factors for daytime alertness levels, including time without a break, total hours worked, and commute time, were explored. Based on the experience of this study, several methodological changes are suggested for future studies of this type.