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Sleep safety at sea - VB Attorneys

Brian Beckcom

Brian Beckcom


Why maritime companies have to help employees get more (and better) sleep

One of the most natural things that people do is get tired and fall asleep. It is crucial for our safety, development, and happiness. Over time, our bodies have created many different ways to get the most benefit from the limited amount of sleep we get. Even though there are many tools and methods that help us maximize the benefits of sleep, people in many jobs and industries are chronically sleep-deprived.

We function best when we get about eight hours of sleep. Some researchers argue that we may be fine on as little as seven or seven-and-a-half hours of sleep, but most still believe that eight hours is optimal. However, that does not mean that if you get in bed at 10 PM and wake up at 6 AM that you have gotten enough sleep. Or that the sleep you got was restorative. Fatigue compounds over time, and the more fatigued you are, the less you can focus on doing your job safely and correctly. Since maritime companies are responsible for the well-being of their employees while on the job, they are also responsible for making sure their employees get enough restorative sleep.

When employees don’t sleep well, mistakes happen

For many maritime workers, sleeping on the ship or rig is not necessarily guaranteed. Or restorative. Workers turn to caffeine, supplements, and other methods to stay alert during their shifts. While workers may technically have time to sleep, you may spend your hitch fighting an increasing level of fatigue. The amount of time you spend in bed may not be enough to get eight hours of sleep. You may also experience other problems that can be corrected by your company, such as:

  • You have trouble falling asleep;
  • You wake up in the middle of the night;
  • You have trouble falling back asleep;
  • Your diet isn’t right;
  • You have too much stress in your life;
  • You have a particularly physically strenuous day;
  • You have been consuming caffeine or alcohol;
  • Your mattress, pillow, or temperature of the room are not idea; or
  • You have a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea.

Sleep safety at sea: why is fatigue so dangerous?

An employer has a duty to provide a safe working environment for all seaman. One of the keys to being safe is to make sure you and your crew are fully awake and functioning at your highest level. When you are fatigued, you are at a much higher risk for injury. Research has shown that “fatigue (sleepiness, tiredness) is the largest identifiable and preventable cause of accidents in transport operations (between 15% and 20% of all accidents), surpassing that of alcohol or drug related incidents in all modes of transportation.” That is particularly shocking from the perspective of a seaman who is working shift work. Your ability to sleep is controlled by your company.

There are many reasons why not getting enough sleep is dangerous, but two of the most important reasons are:

  • Fatigue impairs your cognitive ability
  • Fatigue is hard to detect.

Sleep deprivation is the official term for when you don’t get 8 or more hours of sleep per night and are fatigued. Sleep deprivation doesn’t allow your brain to process things as quickly or well as it normally would.  This means that in the split second that it takes for an incident to occur, you are not as fully able to avoid getting hurt when you are sleep deprived. Perhaps, what is even more scary is the fact that all people are terrible judges of when sleep loss and fatigue are affecting us. This means that if you’re sleep deprived, you do not take any extra precautions and don’t know you need to fix the problem. This is where your company comes in.

How companies can help fatigued mariners get sleep

Like the G.I. Joe cartoon used to say “Knowing is half the battle!” Now that you know how important it is to get enough sleep, under the right conditions, and without disruptions it is time you and your company do the following:

  1. You must take responsibility for making sure that you do your part in getting to bed on time
  2. You inform your employer about any problems that are preventing you from sleeping.
  3. Your company provides sleep disorder screenings, better mattresses, blackout shades, and other tangible things that will drastically increase the quality and quantity of sleep for you and everyone on board.
  4. Your company schedules workers in shifts that allow you enough time to get restful and restorative sleep.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about being sleep deprived while working on the water, contact us. If you believe an injury was caused because your crew mates were sleep deprived, contact us right away. Our Board Certified personal injury trial attorneys have the track record and resources to get you the help you need. It is free and confidential. Call us at 877-724-7800 or fill out a contact form.