We don’t want MPs drunk on the job. We shouldn’t want them fatigued, either.

A couple of stories in today’s Globe and Mail caught my eye.

The first concerned the investigation into the crash of Continental Connection flight 3407 near Buffalo, N.Y. several months ago. One of the possible contributing factors to the crash was crew fatigue: Investigators learned that the first officer had reported for duty in Newark, N.J. that day after flying as a passenger on an overnight “red eye” flight from Seattle. The implication is that her judgment in handling the doomed airliner might have been impaired by fatigue.

The other contained absurd revelations from Britain, where Members of Parliament have been caught billing taxpayers for “expenses” that would not normally be considered relevant to their jobs. This included bills for cleaning the moat that surrounds the stately manor home of Conservative MP Douglas Hogg, and for erotic movies ordered by the husband of Labour MP Jacqui Smith who, ironically, was leading a campaign intended to discourage the treatment of young women as sex objects.

My first thought was, “Why would anyone bill these things to the public purse, knowing what would happen if the media found out about it?”

Then it occured to me that the two news stories might have a common link: fatigue.

A Member of Parliament’s job is far from being a cushy one, as this quote from a British parliamentary committee report illustrates:

“The unusual demands of an MP’s role, including very long hours, never really being off duty, constantly being in public demand, and family separation through working in two locations, while by no means unique in the 21st century, nevertheless do little to support a healthy work : life balance… There is a significant failure rate of parliamentary marriages, as with other occupations where family separation is prevalent.”

How long is “very long hours”? A 2008 study by a Ph.D. student at the University of Umea in Sweden found that Swedish MPs work 66 hours per week on average.

An older 1982 study of British MPs provided a slightly more detailed breakdown: an average work week of 67 hours when Parliament was in session, dropping to a relatively more relaxed 48-hour week when it was not in session. (The conclusion, in classic British understatement, was that being a Member of Parliament “is a full-time rather than a part-time job”.)

Swedish and British MPs might even be considered slackers compared to their German counterparts, who worked an average of 78 hours per week in 1988-89.

Knowing that, it seems less surprising that politicians might end up submitting receipts for moat-cleaning services and erotica as “work-related expenses”. They might well be too distracted or fatigued to keep an eye on what they’re doing.

A 2000 U.S. Department of Justice study of the effects of fatigue — in this case, on police officers — found that it impacts a person’s job performance in three ways:

first, by interfering with the formation of sound judgments; second, by encouraging unnecessarily constrained choices; and third, by inducing poor responses via increased irritability.

In Australia, a study by the Adelaide Centre for Sleep Research found that fatigue can have similar effects to the consumption of alcohol. After 17 hours awake, a typical person’s judgment and task performance is equivalent to that of a person with a 0.05 blood alcohol level. After 24 hours, it’s equal to a 0.1 blood alcohol level.

Not that MPs are staying awake for 24 hours on a regular basis. But between their long work weeks, long commutes between Ottawa and their home constituency, and their private lives, it wouldn’t be surprising if many of them are still dealing with paperwork and other political business after 17 hours awake.

It makes you wonder what effect the political lifestyle has on their ability to make wise decisions — and how many of the scandals and incidents of bad behaviour we occasionally hear about are the products of that lifestyle.


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

One Response to We don’t want MPs drunk on the job. We shouldn’t want them fatigued, either.

  1. notscarednews says:

    I think they should work hard because they are working for the people, well “ideally” at least. They shouldnt work to the point of fatigue though.

    [Edited by moderator — part of original post off-topic/promotional]

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