Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Night shift workers get little respect

It’s a staple of the news business that we often cover the computer mishaps that attack without warning.

One of the best examples is when an automated phone-calling system suddenly starts making phone calls at 2 in the morning because of a programming error. It’s happened with school district warning systems, AMBER Alert systems and others.

But people can mess up, too, especially in the name of TV comedy.

In an early season of the TV show “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry David is taken to task for making a telephone call to his manager, Jeff Garlin, at 10 p.m. Larry’s wife, Cheryl, had tried to stop him, noting that “the cutoff” for night calls was 9:30 p.m., but Larry went ahead and made the call.

The next day, Jeff’s wife, Susie, asks, “What’s with this calling at 10 p.m.? The cutoff’s 9:30 p.m.”

However, if you work the night shift, the notion of a cutoff for telephone calls is nonexistent. For many years, I’ve worked nights and it seems that my sleep is valued less than those who are on the day shift. Actions that would result in the intervention of law enforcement during the night are taken as necessary and legal during the day, and night workers are told to get a “real” job (read: a day job) or move somewhere else.

At least once a week, I am blown out of a sound sleep an hour before my scheduled wakeup time by a telephone call from a charity telemarketer, or a business telemarketer who’s betting I won’t report them. My friends and family know better than to call me before noon, but those others are the leading cause of me being a grump at work because of interrupted sleep.

Even with the grass being in a dormant state because of the cold weather we’ve had, lawn services insist on coming out and running their equipment over the grass, violating the silent sanctity of many a cool morning and turning the neighborhood into a nightmare of howling gas-powered equipment. I’ve had to endure many mornings of “landscapers’ reveille” and recall one fellow I was interviewing for a story who said that he lived across the street from a school, and in the spring and fall they’d go out at 5 a.m. with all the equipment to get a head start on ballfield maintenance before it got really hot outside.

Society has always had a thing about people sleeping past what are believe to be the normal hours for work and wakefulness. Anyone still in bed at 9 a.m. is considered to be lazy, shiftless and unambitious, even if that person just spent the entire night working at hard physical labor.

The culture of some organizations cannot even bear to allow for the existence of those who sleep during the day. In my day, the military viewed day sleepers as a threat. Most training I recall was about the absolute ban on even taking a hard look at your bed after reveille and before taps. It was ingrained into us from Parris Island onward that sleeping during the day was the worst violation of military discipline imaginable, at least next to failing to salute an officer.

On a shipboard deployment in 1980, I worked on Harrier jets on the night crew, and day sleep was begrudged us if only so we could do our jobs right. Even then, and with the night crew segregated from the rest of the squadron, it wasn’t uncommon for us to be awakened early in our sleep cycle for some work detail and have to manage somehow for the rest of the day. In the military, sleep-deprivation isn’t a lab experiment; it’s a way of life.

We stopped in Hawaii and took aboard components of three Marine helicopter squadrons, plus about 2,000 Marine infantrymen, then set off for the Philippines. Flight operations began and the maintenance crews for the aircraft were split into day and night shifts.

I was on the night side, and it was tough getting to sleep during the day, but I managed. Then there was the terrible day when a Marine infantry sergeant noticed that tacked to the hatch for the night side’s berthing area was a sign: “Quiet, please. Day sleepers.”

Furious at this direct challenge to Marine Corps tradition, he tore off the sign, ripped open the hatch, barged into the berthing area and hit all the light switches, then shouted, “What the #$&!@# are you Marines doing in your racks? There’ll be no sleeping during the day!”

We awoke and stared at him, bleary-eyed, until some brave Marine spoke up. “Sergeant, we’ve been up all night fixing the helicopters your men will fly on and the jets that will provide close-air support,” he said. “We have approval to sleep during the day.”

The sound of the ruckus had gotten the attention of a higher-ranking person who came over, calmed the sergeant and restored quiet so we night-shifters could get our sleep.

For many people, the night shift is the only job option available. Wouldn’t it be nice if their sleep was respected as essential to the well-being of the individual and the society?


May 12, 2014 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , , ,

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