'Give sleepy Cup fans a break'

By Alanah May Eriksen

Employers are being urged to go easy on staff who stay up to watch this week's America's Cup races, and not just to win loyalty from workers.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett yesterday said employers should be more flexible with staff who are watching early morning live coverage of Team New Zealand competing in Valencia.

He said New Zealanders were a nation of sports lovers and businesses should take this into account.

"They're not going to be fit to work at 8 or 9am after staying up all night.

"When you hire someone you hire the whole person and what comes with them. There's no use thinking, 'This single mother of a 2-year-old isn't at work yet, what do I do?' If you have flexibility you will have loyal staff, especially in small to medium-sized businesses."

Employers should take other sports and interests into consideration when letting staff have time off, he said.

"It goes right across the board, whether it's watching rugby or whatever. An employee came to me the other day and said he had a squash tournament to go to so he wanted to leave early."

Guy Warman, anaesthesiology lecturer at the University of Auckland, said less than eight hours' sleep would affect a worker's effectiveness.

"Activities that may seem a bit boring, such as driving, or flying a plane, require full attention.

"If something went wrong your ability to respond quickly is impaired."

Dr Warman said someone who had had one sleepless night may be able to recover with coffee or energy drinks or bright lights.

"Staying awake all night and then sitting in a dim office is not good for you."

A person who hasn't slept for about 17 hours has a driving ability considered equivalent to that of someone who is over the legal alcohol adult limit.

After 24 hours the condition is equivalent to double the adult limit.

"However, there is no way you'd be able to tell or test if a person hasn't slept unless they're literally collapsing."

Vodafone spokesman Paul Brislen said the company would allow its 1600 headquarters staff to arrive late to work if they had been watching America's Cup races because the company was already a large supporter of the team by providing them with cellphones.

"People are always coming and going from conferences, going overseas or up half the night anyway. We have to have a bit of flexibility. Obviously someone has to be here at all times in our call centre, though."

John Lambert, managing director of 11 Shell service stations in West Auckland, agreed with Mr Barnett's comments.

"However, if you're working at a hospital or a 24-hour business such as us it probably wouldn't work. It's all very well if you're on an 8.30am till 5.30pm job."

Mr Lambert said his employees did not seem to be interested in the America's Cup but if they were he would not mind letting them have time off, if they had arranged another staff member to cover their shift.

Meanwhile, a BBC investigation has found that twice as many pilots are flying when dangerously tired than five years ago, putting passengers' lives at risk.

A separate survey by the British Airline Pilots' Association revealed that four-fifths of pilots admitted they had been affected by fatigue while flying.

SLEEP-DEPRIVED

* Anyone who has not slept for about 17 hours has a driving ability considered equivalent to that of a person who is over the legal alcohol adult limit.

* After 24 hours without sleep the effect is double the limit.

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