David E. Shapiro, Writing and Editing

301-699-8833, 9 a.m. - 9 p.m.


After a brief introduction, I provide links to the following sections of this document: qualifications, rates, and publications. My publications are broken out by category.


Most of my nonfiction writing seeks to teach as well as entertain. I work hard at helping my readers understand their world better. Given this goal, I do my best not to mislead, not even by what I leave out. I rely on sources that command my respect, and I do my very best to accurately convey the information they give me.

At the same time as I strive for accuracy, if a publication's style allows some informality I keep my copy lively enough to hold readers' attention. Entertaining doesn't usually mean clowning. In most of the contexts in which I’ve written, my readers have enjoyed the sense that they are listening to a person. If, given a suitable context, I can intrigue or amuse my audience, so much the better.

Reader engagement functions in both directions. I need a pretty good idea of what my readers will understand. I want my writing to be accessible, neither patronizing nor going way over their heads. It’s all about connections: connecting with my readers, and helping them see connections that I've discovered.


Like other writing and editing professionals, I have some competence as a generalist. I've turned out to be a decent editor of many sorts of material. However, I am most interested in, and experienced in writing about, science and technology. Want something more specific? I've covered many aspects of the electrical industry, psychology, safety, health, nutrition and driving. People have been happy with my work summarizing technical presentations and meetings. Areas in which I have far less interest than technology and science (including social science) include politics, military activities, fashion, the entertainment industries, personalities, economics--with the exception of behavioral economics--and sports. I did serve as the outside editorial consultant for The Psychology of Sport Medicine, which demonstrates the overlap between this and areas where I have interest and some expertise. Even further afield, for several years I edited a quarterly financial newsletter.




Feature Stories; I include columns in this category

Sample Article Metalworkers' Hearing


Sample Column



Public Relations




World-Wide Web


Consulting and Outside Editing


Co-authorship and Ghostwriting


Contract Writing


I have many ways to respond to an editor's implicit or stated question, "How do I know you're qualified for my assignment?"


          The links show how widely my writing has ranged. Follow them to see how widely I've published, and how many editors have been happy to give me repeat assignments.


          My writing honors tell you that I provide more than the minimum required.


          My writing references name current editors who will vouch for my reliability and professionalism. I have no qualms about what former editors will say, either.



          My sample clips put my writing before you. If neither is a good match to your subject or audience, you can request a clip from my publications list, which begins immediately below.


Writing Honors

Writing References

Writing Samples


Dangerous Ignorance” IAEI News, January-February 2012.

“Seen Behind the Scenes: Solar Decathlon” Electrical Contractor Vol.73#3, P.48-51 (March 2008)

“Modern Marvels: Rise and Shine” (a history of the alarm clock) The History Channel Magazine (January/February 2008).

"Optimizing Office Environments" Public Power 1-2/1997

"When the Work Force Shrinks, So Does Safety" Public Power 9-10/1996

"Redesigning a Utility" Public Power 1997

"Residential Design-Build" Electrical Contractor, (April 2005)

"Power Problems Come Home" Electrical Contractor, (April 2004)

"Counterfeit Tools" Fine Homebuilding, March 2004

"Backfire!"IAEI News, January 2004

"Dangerous Fakes" Electrical Contractor, September 2003

"An Unrecognized Threat to your Eyes" Electrical Contractor, May 2003

"The Microchip comes Home to Play" The History Channel Magazine (February 2003)

"New Rules for Old Wiring" Electrical Contractor (January 2003)

"Killing Ourselves Bit by Bit" Public Power (May-June 2002)

"Safety Training Isn't a One-Time Deal" Safedriver (January 2000)

"Shed Some Light on Your Workplace" Today's Supervisor (April 1999)

"In the Blink of an Eye" Public Power, 3-4/1999

"Study Finds Link Between Symptoms and Poor Office Conditions" HR Report, Winter 1999: Vol. 15 No.1

"Science and Your Hearing . . . Loss" Metalworking Equipment News, 2/1999 sample - metalworkers' hearing

"What's Tricky About Old Wiring" Fine Homebuilding, 1/1999

"Solving Problems in Old Split-bus Panels" Electrical Contractor, 11/1998

"Emissions" Today's Supervisor, 11/1998

"Whom will noise hurt worst? Look into their eyes." UPI, 11/1998

"Standardizing Standards" EC&EN, 9/1998

"Smoothing Things Over: Occupational Violence" Public Power, 9-10/1998

"Safety Training on a Low Budget" Public Power, 9-10/1998

"Where the Wild Things Are" Public Power, 9-10/1998

"In a Bad Hole" Public Power, 7-8/1998

"Loud Noises SHOULD Hurt" Public Power, 7-8/1998

"A Breath of Fresher Air" Public Power, 5-6/1998

"Holding On to Valuable Employees Goes Beyond Wages" Public Power, 5-6/1998

"Can Solar Technology find a Niche in the Electric Utility Industry?"Public Power, 5-6/1998

"Riding Impaired: Boozing is just the tip of the ice cube" Motorcycle Consumer News, 4/1998

"Superconductors: Overcoming Resistance" Public Power, 3-4/1998

"Credo for an Electrical Inspector" Public Power, 3-4/1998

"The Surgeon General Says, 'Shape up!'" Rider, 1/1998

"Spreading Safety from the Podium" IAEI News, 1-2/1998

"Hanging Safety on the Wall" Public Power, 9-10/1997

"Worker Fitness and Health" Public Power, 7-8/1997

"Warnings that Work" Public Power, 7-8/1997

"Updating the NEC" Public Power, 5-6/1997

"Pumping up Your Attitude" Psychology Today 5-6/1997

"Inspect Us, Please." Public Power, 3-4/1997

"Questions About Magnetism and Health" Public Power, 3-4/1997

"Of Trees, Wires, and Children" Public Power, 1-2/1997

"Delegating Responsibility -- Who's Right for What Job?" IEC Quarterly, first quarter 1997

"But You Told Me . . . "IEC Quarterly, fourth quarter 1996

"OSHA Watch" Public Power, 11-12/1996

"Saying No to Harassment" Public Power, 11-12/1996

"Tips for Making Shift" Public Power11-12/1996

"Why Things go Bump in the Night" Public Power, 9-10/1996

"When the Work Force Shrinks, So Does Safety" Public Power, 9-10/1996

"A National Standard for Lineworkers" Public Power, 7-8/1996

"Fearless Fat" Military Grocer, 7/1996

"After the Accident" Motorcycle Consumer News, 6/1996

"Not in my Backyard -- Put it on my Roof!" Public Power, 5-6/1996

"Lifting Controversy to New Heights?" Public Power, 5-6/1996

"Making Jewelry in Comfort" Lapidary Journal, 3/1996

"Fit to Ride, Part II: Motorcyclists' Bodies" Motorcycle Consumer News 12/1994

"Fit to Ride, Part I: Motorcycling Ergonomics" Motorcycle Consumer News 11/94

"Melted Chocolate and Other Heartaches" CEE News 10/1994

"Cooperation Around the World", IEC Quarterly, fourth quarter 1993

"Architecture Update" IVHS America, III (6), 6/1993

"Accidents Will Happen" CEE News, 1/1993

"Americans with Disabilities" CEE News, 8/1992

"Avoiding the Pain of Cumulative Trauma" CEE News, 7/1992

"Keeping the Customer Satisfied" Military Grocer, 6/1992

"Currents of Concern" CEE News, 5/1992

"A Simcha to Celebrate" I-95 Shuk, 3/1992

"Feeling the Heat CEE News, 2/1992

"Beyond the Old Tool Pouch" CEE News, 12/1991

"Dealing with Officialdom" CEE News, 11/1991

"Developing Industry Standards" CEE News, 10/1991

"Sick buildings, stress ..." The Washington Times, 3/1991

"Wiring Costa Rica: from Third World to NEC," IAEI News, 5-6/1990

"Electrical Safety Begins in the Home" Focus on the Family, 3/1990

"Ceiling Fan Fare," The Washington Post, 8/1989

"Hitting the Circuit," The Washington Post, 12/1989

"When the lights go out" Fort Lauderdale News-Sun/Sentinel, 8/1989

"Blackout!" The Washington Post, 6/1989

"On Massage," Perceptions, Winter 1989

"The Class Job," EC&M, 1/1989

"A History of Wiring," Electrical Construction Technology, 12/1988

"The Old, Bold, Electrician," Electrical Contractor," 8/1988

"Plug in to Safety," Practical Homeowner, 5/1988

"Remodeling Around Electrical Systems" New England Builder, 9/1987

"Private Safety Inspections," Electrical Contractor, 6/1987

"Hints on Wiring Electronic Cash Registers," EC&M, 5/1986

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I contributed five columns.

I was Residential columnist for Electrical Contractor at first from 1989 to 1992. They recruited me again as Residential columnist in 1999, and I contributed the residential column to the print edition from 1999 through 2018, with the exception of a few months when my column was bumped for an ad. .

I was reponsible for an International column appearing in Utility Fleet Management from 1992 to 1994, when I changed roles.

From February 1994 to March 1997, when Utility Fleet Management took all writing in-house, I wrote their Safety column.

In mid-2005, I explained applications of social science to the electrical industry in an online column for Rexel Inc.

Next, I contributed a bimonthly column on safety to the online newsletter of another electrical distributor, Capital Lighting. These columns started in August 2006, and continued until that publisher decided to cease investing in new issues of their newsletter. My “Safewatch” columns remained available for a while, but eventually they were removed.

Column Topics (a non-exhaustive sampling):


"Vehicles as Weapons" (Road rage);

"Accident Prevention";

"The Weight of Responsibility" (Legal and emotional consequences for managers arising from worker injuries);

"An Urban Legend" (Dispelling a nasty rumor);

"Sick, Slick, or Just Fed Up?"(litigation response syndrome);

"Feds in your Corner' (safety recalls);

"Coming up with Figures"- "Back to Backs" - "Unreasonable Limits?" (all on OSHA's lifting guidelines);

"The Effects of Downsizing";

"Avoiding Workplace Violence" and "Workplace Violence, Part 2";

"They've Got a Little List" (Listed products);

"Out of the Mouths of Babes -- and Bureaucrats" (Visual attention);

The Eyes Have It (Visual deterioration and driving safety);

"A Bracing Experience"(the controversy over lumbar supports);

"Accident! -- Utility Crews and 911";

"Snips and Tips: Antilock brakes, safer garages, ...";

"Risky Business"(risk-taking behavior);

"Dopey, Sleepy, Grumpy, and the Docs"(sleep deprivation);

"Mixed-up Crews"(gender discrimination);

"Impact Tools for Fleet Managers"(speaking up about standards);

"Gabriel, Blow Your Horn -- But Don't Rely on it" (vehicle horns);

"RE: Liability" (fiduciary responsibility);

"Looking for Trouble";

"That Guy's Been Out in the Sun Too Long" (sun protection);

"No Easy Answer" (employee mental health);

"Beware of Backup Generators"

UTILITY FLEET MANAGEMENT, International perspectives:

"Just Charge It" (Japanese electric cars);

"Northernmost Exposure" (Finnish utilities);

"Utilities Under Fire in Nicaragua";

"Can the Power Company help Correct Power Inequities?"(South Africa);

"The Ivory Coast: Making do with Mopeds";

"The Land of the Lamborghini";

"A New Germany with New Problems";

"French Birds" (Helicopters)


"That Listless Feeling" (Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories);

"Call Before You Dig";

"Accessibility: a Twofold issue";

"Trust, Part 1: The Problem"; "Trust, Part 2: Communication";

"Facing Employee Substance Abuse";

"The Quest for Consistency" (in rule enforcement);

"To Retorque or not to Retorque?";

"Inspectors and Test Torques";

"Permits and the Social Contract";

"Alarming Information";

"The Gray Area of Oral Law";

"Problems with Side Jobs";

"Material Questions";

"The High Price of Jackleg Work";

"Don't Neglect Supervision";

"Smart Decisions";

"Neon: Part 1: the Problems"; "Neon: Part 2: Responsibility" "Neon: Part 3: Leadership"; "Replacing Old Wiring";

"Don't be the 'Messenger who gets Shot'";

"More 'Groundless' Worries;

Home Gensets? Really!";

"Voltage Drop: What do Measurements Really Indicate?";

"Special Considerations Govern Shallow Recessed Lights";

"Security Lighting Made Simple";

"Protecting Homeowners from what They Don't Know";

"How Reasonable is the NEC on Voltage Drop?";

Choosing Sides";

"Male Electrician, Female Customer";

"Feeding a Fountain";

"A Rigid Approach to Underground Wiring";

"Why Hire an Expert and Then Ignore Him?";

"Consulting to Consultants."

"Preserve Safety Despite Lenient Inspectors";

"When Voltage Drop Warns of Hidden Hazards";

Residential Remodeling Referral Roll-outs";


"Needed! AFCIs";

"Too Much Choice";

"Costly Rescue";

"Just Say, 'No, Thank You'";

"When the NEC is Open to Interpretation";

"Protection, Not Panaceas";

"Water and Electricity";

"Those Home Fires";

"None of Us is Getting Any Younger";

"Disco Lights";

"Automating Success";


"The Cheapest Safe Fix";

"How Little is Enough";

"Real-World Consults";

"Is the Customer Always Right?";

"The Economics of Good Care";

"Incomplete Repair, a Tricky Choice";

"Foot-in-Mouth Disease";

"Feeling Apologetic";

"Due Diligence";

"Considerate Workmanship";

"Manufacturer’s Instructions: Not Good Enough";

"Peri-Purchase Inspections,";

"Bugged by a Bugeye";

"Automating Success?";

"Jobsite Inappropriateness: Smoking and Drinking and Carrying On";

"What Handymen Don’t Realize";

"How Risky Is It?";

"Protecting Homeowners from What They Don't Know";

"Nuisance, Noise, and Hazard";

"Some Like it Safer."

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My first book was Old Electrical Wiring (McGraw-Hill, April 1998). For a while it was out of print, after two printings, and much sought-after. A revised edition was published in 2010. You can read reviews of the book below, just after my writing references.

My second McGraw-Hill book, a steady seller that was first available December 22, 2000, covers related material.Your Old Wiring is targeted at non-electricians, including readers who may be novices at dealing with electrical systems. Of necessity, it has a different focus than the first book, and complements rather than duplicates its material. The Edward R. Hamilton web site speaks of it as well-illustrated, and Redwood Kardon, www.codecheck.com, an electrical safety instructor and author of several well-known inspection checklists, speaks highly of it.

I encourage people who have purchased either book to go to the web page where errata are available for downloading.

Not long after the death of my mentor W. Creighton Schwan, I privately published this co-authored book: Behind the Code. It is designed for audiences that may be familiar with the rules that govern wiring in the United States, but remain curious about the reasons they were adopted.


"Another Vision of the Year 2020": Pulphouse magazine August 1992

"Poor Devil." in Veritales #1: Ring of Truth. Fall Creek Press.

"Harvest." in Veritales #2: Note of Hope. Fall Creek Press.


"Fuse Blews," IAEI News, September/ October 1991

"A Pain to Dr. Rolf," GSI News, Spring 1991.

"To a Trackball," Calliope, Honorable Mention, 1995 contest.


I consulted on the dissemination plan and prepared the Executive Summary for an April 2008 anniversary technical report, Psychological Intervention with the Virginia Tech Shootings: Lessons Learned and Recommendations for the Hospital Setting by John Heil, D.A. et al.

Independent Electrical Contractors, Inc.: I prepared a press release.

IAEI George Washington Chapter: I was and remain responsible for publicity mailings; intra- and inter-organizational relations.


SAFE (Safety Awareness For Electricity) -- extensively validated.

The JoHari Window Test (personality) -- validated, published


I sold FNASR for ten photographs to EC&M magazine, published on EC&M’s web site during 2000.

I shot more than 250 photographs that serve as illustrations for my second book, Your Old Wiring

Finally, I sold EC&EN Magazine a digital photograph as part of a trial feature called "Code Blue."


From its 1983 founding till February 2018, I edited and published monthly issues of The Flexible Conduit, an eight-page newsletter for Mensa members and other intellectually curious members of the electrical industry.


"Inspect us, please" on the National Electrical Contractors Association home page, WWW.NECANET.ORG, June 1997 (reprinted from Public Power);

"Illegal Wiring" on the tool-users' web site, WWW.SLOOT.ORG, July, 2000

SCHOLARLY: Articles in three peer-reviewed journals --

The Journal of Social Psychology

Third Force Psychology ("Does Sincerity Matter: An Empirical Test."); and

The Fight Master.


Rodale Press (book chapters);

Creative Homeowner Press (book and pamphlet editing);

Park Publishing (book evaluation);

McGraw-Hill (proposal evaluation);

The Psychology of Sport Medicine (outside reader);

NAHB Press used me, on call, for proposal evaluation and developmental editing;

Mike Holt Enterprises, Inc. (Fact-checking, light editing, integration of readers' critiques);

Intrepid Capital Advisors, LLC (quarterly financial newsletter).


   IAEI News,

"The Endless Web" The Guild, 3(2), April-June 1997

"Subsidy, thy name is vanity" Calliope, September-October 1996

"Smart house wiring" CEE News, October, 1992.

"The sophisticated body" Capital M, July, 1992.


"UL in for Big Change? NRTL's will Decide" by Joe O'Neil, Executive Director, American Council of Independent Laboratories. IEC Quarterly, fourth quarter 1996

"Sports Psychology & the Physical Therapist: Part I, Mental Practice" by Dr. John Heil (and), Physical Therapy Forum 6/1/94; Part II, Rehabilitation." 6/15/94

[Practical Electrical Wiring by Richter and Schwan. Originally contracted to take over authorship from 1999 (its 60th year of publication) forward. A challenge to McGraw-Hill's copyright killed the project.]


"A Code Day in April." IEC Quarterly, April 1996

"The Code -- and the Job." IAEI News, March-April 1988


Standard-development writer, October 2000 to early 2002, prepared a document for adoption by the American National Standards Institute, "NEIS 302," through the National Electrical Contractors Association

Committee writer, February 2001, for TIP 9 Revision Substance Abuse Treatment for Persons With Co-Occurring Disorders,for the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment [CSAT] via CDM, Inc.

Grant review committee writer, September 1996, for U.S. Army Medical Material and Research Command, through United Information Systems (breast cancer).

Grant review writer, November 1995, for U.S. Army Medical Material and Research Command, through United Information Systems

Backup grant review writer, July 1995, for SAMHSA through R.O.W. Sciences, Rockville, MD.

Backup grant review writer, July 1994, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Rockville, MD.

Grant review writer, National Institutes, Spring 1993, United Information Systems., Bethesda, MD.


"Most Valued Person" award from the American Motorcyclist Association for a safety column in UFM.

"Most-Read Feature" rating by readers of Utility Fleet Management; for my Safety column.

"Maryland Best," 1991 World's Worst Poetry contest.


My editors at McGraw-Hill are long gone, unfortunately.

My publisher at Electrical Contractor is Andrea Klee, 301-215-4516, and my editor is Julie Mazur, 301-215-4531

My editor at IAEI News is Kathryn Ingley, 972-235-3855

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Reviews of Old Electrical Wiring: Maintenance and Retrofit

Electrical Contracting and Engineering News: ". . .an essential guide . . ."

CEE News: ". . . a thorough, sometime humorous, guide . . . Ample photographs, charts, and appendices round out the text. . ."

The Independent Writer: ". . . important information for people who live or work in older buildings . . ."

Electrical Contractor: " . . . a valuable reference work. . .keep the book handy. . . ."

Electrical Construction and Maintenance: ". . . practical . . .valuable resource."

Fine Homebuilding: ". . . a necessary addition to any electrician's library."

Electrical Books: ". . . detailed and valuable resource."

Contractors' Code Letter: ". . . clear guidance. . ."

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For permission to reprint either sample feature, please contact


From Metalworking Equipment News, February 1999. (C) 1999 David E. Shapiro

 Sample: Science and Your Hearing . . . LOSS

"Some 3400 members of UAW Local 659 struck a GM metal Stamping Plant June 5, charging that the company had reneged on promises to invest in updating the facility and deteriorating conditions were hazardous to their health." Peter Rachleff of the Twin Cities local wrote in "Workday World," which appeared in American Writer, Fall 1998.

The story goes that it's awfully hard to insult a tin-knocker, because he probably can't hear the insult. It's not much of a joke. The metal-working trades, and sheet-metal workers in particular, are the "poster children" of audiologists. Sad to say, hearing damage is a historic tradition in the industry; it's one that deserves to be eradicated.

One factor sustaining the association of deafness with the metal industries is the "not me" syndrome. Another, equal in deadliness but opposite, is the idea, "you can fight it but you can't win." Both come from the fact that hearing loss creeps up on people -- especially when they don't obtain regular, accurate testing. It's like smoking a pack of cigs, and coughing from the irritation. The smoker generally feels recovered the next day, and the incremental reduction in lung capacity is not going to be evident without exertion. The increased chance of emphysema and heart disease other problems is pretty abstract.

Harvard's Dr. Stephen Jay Gould is the incoming president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. At their September 18, 1998 Founder's Day lecture, he talked about how bad people are at some important thinking tasks. One part of our make-up that has real consequences in terms of our work safety practices is that we evolved as good story-tellers, pattern-inventers. That fact means we have two foibles. We're bad at figuring probabilities; and we're lousy at finding actual, out-in-the-world patterns, and therefore at projecting and predicting the future. "If I use gasoline to clean this greasy tool, will it have any effect on my lungs? Is the chance that it will cause an explosion or fire 1 in 50 or 1 in 50,000?" Sure, very broad patterns are predictable. For example, everyone reading this eventually is going to die. The details, though, the when and how, are "in the realm of the contingent" -- and we don't have a handle on all the contingencies, the chance factors, involved.

There certainly are plenty of risk factors that cluster around metal-working occupations. For instance, Primary metals, SIC Code 3300, and Fabricated metal products, SIC 3400, are two industries picked out by OSHA as "most likely to have hand abrasion/laceration injuries," requiring hand protection under 29 CFR 1910.138.

Getting back to noise, experts at NIOSH and elsewhere have identified levels of noise that will harm most people's hearing. (An emerging consensus suggests that current OSHA-approved levels are too generous to fully protect hearing.)They also have identified means of protecting workers from such noise, even when the nature of their work means they have to be around it.

What scientists can do, meanwhile, is work towards getting a better handle on those apparent chance factors. They include differences in individual sensitivity.

What kind of individual factors may be involved in predicting susceptibility? According to recent scientific research, race, ear canal size and shape, and even eye color may be of value in predicting susceptibility to all hearing loss -- from age as well as from noise. Eye color may also be correlated with hearing loss due to chemical exposure. Elliott Berger, a senior audiology researcher for the AEARO Corporation, suggests that age-related hearing loss may in fact be a subtle, gradual response to noise rather than totally the touch of time.

Humans -- and Friends -- Who Inherit High Risk for Hearing Loss.

The notion of inherited vulnerability to noise may be less startling when you consider related conditions. There are several congenital syndromes resulting in deafness, including "Marshall & Stickler syndrome," which includes hearing loss, myopia, cataract, and saddle nose; Waardenburg syndrome which includes partial albinism -- commonly a white forelock -- and displacement of the inner corners of the eyes; and Usher syndrome which includes retinitis pigmentosa. Similarly, there is an autosomal gene in cats that results in white fur, blue eyes, and deafness. Similar conditions manifesting in the first week of life affect some dogs, including Boston Terriers, Great Danes, Boxers, English Setters, and Dalmatians, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. Guinea pigs and rabbits show pigmentation-related patterns of differential noise susceptibility similar to those found in humans.]

Not all studies have shown the same significant results when looking at risk factors. One reason could be that different types of the coloring agent melanin (pheomelanin and eumelanin), may be important separately. The ratio of the two chemicals is important elsewhere as well: it can predict sun sensitivity and cancer risk.

Larry and Julia Royster, two of the scientists who have been pursuing some of the research on eye color and noise susceptibility, certainly are not "advocating differential protection of people based on physical characteristics. We are both deeply committed to excellence in hearing conservation to protect all employees," Julia Royster told us. Still, their research presented in mid-October indicates, "Persons with dark skin AND light eyes from a population of occupationally noise-exposed workers showed more hearing loss (whether it resulted from noise or from other causes) than persons with dark skin and dark eyes."

Shaking out what matters to workplace safety, a trend is evident. A blue-eyed, light-skinned Caucasian male would be most vulnerable to excessive noise; a brown-eyed, dark-skinned, African American female the least. This does not mean your dusky stamping machine operator can dispense with her hearing protection. Taking to heart what Dr. Royster told us, the answer lies in three areas: engineering noise control; personal protective equipment; and employee education and monitoring.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration might seem to have very little to do with metalworkers. Not so: many of their concerns are as much yours. As part of its ongoing rule-making activities related to occupational noise, MSHA determined that ". . . engineering/administration controls are feasible. The Agency has concluded that . . . the metal and non-metal industry as a whole, can meet this requirement at a PEL set at an 8-hour Time-Weighted Average of 90 dBA." for 99.4% of workers, based on a 1993 study.

A 1998 reports warns, "[the] present EPA Noise Reduction Rating scheme over-estimates the amount of protection really available to the average wearer by as little as 40% and by as much as 2000%. . . Management relies upon hearing protection to the extent of assuming that if hearing protectors are used, there is no noise problem. . . the hearing conservation program becomes a hearing loss documentation program."

What does all this suggest? The latest scientific findings that try to tease out the biological mechanisms associated with hearing loss are fascinating, but they don't take us very far yet. The bottom line is giving risk management or loss prevention or safety or industrial hygiene departments money and authority to prioritize hearing protection up there with eye prevention, even though hearing loss tends to be more insidious. Safety professionals already know what to do.

Lee Hager, editor of The Noise Monitor, agreed: ". . .new factories have demonstrated some success in significantly reducing noise levels through a combination of transfer press enclosure technology, part control, and control of compressed air, but attention must be paid at the design, equipment acquisition, and layout stages to be truly effective, and older plants need to pay special attention to their workers to make sure they retain "auditory functionality". An article by Lindsay Brooke in the November 1997 issue of Automotive Industries reflects a case study from a Walker plant in Indiana, I think, that reflects a lot of the good basic engineering required to make a quiet stamping plant work."

The working draft of the National Occupational Research Agenda says it very well: "We all have the right to not sacrifice our hearing for a job. We all have to right to expect good hearing from cradle to grave. We just don't know it yet."


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Sample: Impaired driving: boozing is just the tip of the ice cube

(c) 1997 by David E. Shapiro

"The streets are safe in Philadelphia, it's only the people who make them unsafe."

Frank Rizzo, ex-police chief and mayor of Philadelphia

Based on that bit of fatuity, the clear answer to driving dangers is to remove the people (as in, "If you don't like the way I'm driving, stay off the sidewalk").

More realistically, we all want to keep the road clear of people who can't drive safely -- including ourselves, when we're in no condition to drive. That's why you're supposed to stay off the highway if you don't have a valid license (unless you have DPL (diplomat) tags), and that's why they warn against drinking and driving. Unfortunately, to warn only against drinking and driving is not nearly enough.

Have you ever walked the line? I have. No, I've never been pulled over by the police and asked to walk a straight line; but then I've never been pulled over and asked to puff some halitosis into a breath testing device either.

But I have been sleepy enough, or worn out enough, or even wiped out enough by hayfever back when I suffered from it that bad, that before taking to the road I did a rough check on myself by walking a line to see how my balance, coordination, and concentration were holding up. That's what I think of as impairment testing. (Note that safety experts, like medical school professors, say, "You can't self-administer our tests.")

Sobriety is necessary but not sufficient for safe driving. Face it: alcohol is a major cause of highway deaths, so looking for alcohol impairment is only reasonable. In fact, when police departments follow the guidelines of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), it is very much their prime suspect. Only when initial observations suggesting impairment are not supported by subsequent breath test findings, said NHTSA sources, do they look for evidence of impairment by other recreational -- or therapeutic -- drugs.

To stop and test someone, the police need to have a probable cause to suspect impairment. That means something behavioral, such as wandering out of your lane, as opposed to something actuarial or prejudicial such as, "Nine out of ten drivers leaving that biker bar at closing time are going to be half in the bag."

Note that I said, "To stop and test someone." The authorities I spoke to consider it just fine to set up a roadblock, and simply stop everyone (so long as it is everyone, as opposed to just those nasty motorcyclists leaving Spartanburg). At a sobriety checkpoint, each jurisdiction has different laws that determine what questions can be asked to help in establishing probable cause to suspect impairment -- and test. Then if one of those people they stop behaves in such a way as to suggest impairment (C'mon, she wouldn't address an officer of the law as 'Mo'fo' if she was sober, now would she?"), why, that calls for a little further investigation.

Now we get to walking the line. Not closing your eyes, spreading your arms as though you were going to make snow angels, and thumbing your nose with alternate hands. Not even walking along a crack in the pavement, or balancing on a curb, as I do in self-test when I'm tired and don't have time for a little Tai Chi.

Out of all the possible goofy behaviors that have been used to check how well people can navigate, a battery of three tests was validated for NHTSA at the Southern California Research Institute in the 1970s. They are called the Standardized Field Sobriety Test, or SFST. The test protocols are uniform, provided by NHTSA and the IACP. The states, not NHTSA or the IACP, provide the training and any certification.

This may one reason, we could speculate, that the results of the SFST hold up better in some states, and are more likely to be thrown out of court in others. Any psychometrician (tests-and-measurements person) will tell you that validating a test battery as originally developed does not take us very far. Tests are only as good as their administration and interpretation. Initial validation does not justify the assumption that trainers working for different states turn out uniformed personnel making uniform assessments. Still, the SFST may offer the fairest evaluation a driver will get when stopped by a patrol car.

This doesn't mean anyone has to take the SFST, or any other test. For instance, sports figure Rod Strickland of the Washington Wizards was arrested in Washington, D.C. early Wednesday morning, September 3, 1997, and charged with DUI and disorderly conduct. He was asked to produce identification, and refused, said the police; he was asked to take a Breathalyzer test, said the Washington Post, and refused that. Because he refused the latter, the police had no Blood Alcohol reading and he could not be charged with DWI under D.C. law.

In Maryland, if the police decide a driver shows evidence of DUI, they also cannot force a breath, urine, behavioral, or blood test. They can, however, confiscate a license, and as a purely administrative matter suspend it -- 120 days for a first offense, a full year for a subsequent offense. This is in addition to charging the driver with DWI, a charge they can sometimes make stick based on observations of the driving and appearance, and on the odor of alcohol.

Most commonly, though, a driver will cooperate with the roadside test. Here's the SFST, in most of if not all its glory:

1) "Walk and Turn"

The police person describes and demonstrates the following process.

"Take 9 steps, heel to toe, on an imaginary line, take a turn in the manner I describe and show you, and then take another 9 steps along the same line."

Then it's your turn to walk the walk.

2) "One leg stand"

The police person describes and demonstrates this process.

"Stand on one leg, hands to the sides, one foot up about 6"; look at the raised foot, and count out loud in the following manner."

Then it's your turn. (You don't really need those crutches, do you?)

3) "Horizontal gaze nystagmus"

The police person holds something about 10-12" from your face, and asks you to track it with your eyes. He or she looks for clues in the moves of your baby blues.

In some states, the police also use a breath-analyzer such as the digital-readout "Alcosensor (R)." In most of the country, though, the results of field instruments are not considered good legal evidence.

What's next? well, it is called the Standard Field Sobriety Test. So if a driver fails any portion of it, he or she earns a trip to the police station or barracks and exhalation into the official, stationary version of a breath analyzer: a Breathalyzer (R), Toximeter (R) or an Intoximeter 3000(R), which will yield an evidentiary printout of Blood Alcohol Content. The forerunner of these instruments was developed in the 1930s, and the station-house versions are considered quite reliable. Incidentally, especially with sobriety checkpoints, that stationary, evidentiary, breath analyzer may be as near as a police van.

What if the quantitative output of the instrument does not show a Blood Alcohol Level (BAC) consonant with the more-qualitative SFST? The immediate presumption in many states is not that the police were mistaken, not that the driver was under the weather or distracted, but that the he or she is under the influence of some drug other than alcohol! Of course, it helps when the police smell the hemp, see the telltale single-edged razor, or hear the driver talking the drug trash talk; or if they can look into saucer-like or pinpointed pupils as she talks about how she's perfectly sober.

So something doesn't match up. Following the approved protocol, the arresting officer then calls in an officially qualified Drug Recognition Expert (DRE), unless he or she has personally completed that additional training. In Maryland, for instance, only 80 police have completed the training statewide. Therefore, it may be an hour after a driver arrives at the station before a DRE is available. That's way long enough for cocaine -- but not a related drug such as methamphetamine or dexamphetamine - to work its way out of a driver's system. The arresting officer may still charge the driver with drug impairment, but may not have a DRE's evidence for backup.

The Drug Evaluation and Classification Program (DECP), administered by that expert at the station, consists of twelve steps, taking maybe three-quarters of an hour. (with apologies to Alcoholics Anonymous, I do hope that number is a coincidence.)The test includes looking at the motorist's pupil size under four different lighting conditions: normal room light, near-total darkness, indirect light, and with a penlight aimed right into the eye; checking their blood pressure, recording their temperature (you want to stick that thing where??)and, to allow for the stress they might be experiencing from all this, taking their pulse at three different times. They claim that the testing is done in a non-threatening environment, so that if a driver does NOT calm down it shows the influence of drug abuse. I wonder about that, though Sergeant Tower of the Maryland State Police assures us that he is convinced it is quite the case.

This array of evaluations is considered to provide reliable indicators of drug impairment, and to pinpoint to which of seven categories the drug belongs. For instance, some categories of drugs increase nystagmus (the normal involuntary eye movement as the driver's eye tracks a vertically-held penlight), which is monitored in both the SFST and the DECP; others do not affect it.

As the last of the series of tests, the police take a blood or urine sample, and send it off to the lab. This twelfth step doesn't determine whether someone is charged, but it may provide evidence later used to substantiate the charges. (Of course, there are many drugs that do not show up on a blood test or urinalysis.)

Each state, incidentally, decides whether to use the tests in the SFST (and perhaps the DECP) as intended, to use only some of them, or to augment them with different measures. Less information has been provided on the validation of the DECP than of the SFST, but to qualify as a Drug Recognition Expert, one does have to personally do at least six evaluations, detecting at least three different drug categories, with at least 75% laboratory confirmation. It seems highly likely, though, said my NHTSA source, that once you have shown what the police consider reasonable cause for suspicion of impairment, and failed some part of the SFST, you've got yourself a ticket. What you're doing subsequently is determining what the ticket will say.

There's something missing in all this testing. As Linda Lewis of the Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators pointed out before I could even ask her, "impairment" is used to refer to two types of condition. One is "driving under the influence"; the other is, well, everything else that can hamper driving. We can include distractions, the inexperience of youth, the slowing of age, limits to hearing and vision, illness, fatigue, anxiety, depression, temper, even deep thought. Impairment related to the more-permanent characteristics such as age and sensory deficit will have to be the subject of another article. Meanwhile, let's finish up with the what the police do and move on to taking responsibility for ourselves.

The problem is that when you hire scientists to come up with tests, they have to validate the tests against some criterion. In the 1970s, for the SFST, the criterion was inebriation. For the DECP, it was other drugs that can affect driving -- and that doesn't even include drugs such as java, unless you use it "in extremely high doses," in the not-very-specific language of a NHTSA Highway Safety Specialist. I asked her (the "camera-shy" source of much of the testing information reported above), about other types of impairment. She said, "As far as impairment due to lack of sleep or exhaustion, I'm not aware that anything has been done on those." (Incidentally, Sergeant Tower was a whole lot more helpful in that regard. When we talked about Central Nervous System stimulants, he said that to be picked up for that category of impairment by a DRE you have to take in the equivalent of 35-40 cups of coffee or caffeine pills -- and you are by-golly impaired. And yes, some people do just that, he added.)

Our NHTSA specialist didn't mean that the federal government closes its eyes to the importance of shuteye. The Department of Transportation does study the effects of fatigue; it simply has no tests for that kind of impairment, nor any immediate prospects of developing them. Carnegie-Mellon, under contract to perform very preliminary research for DOT, has some possibilities in the baby stages.

Under a Dr. Rau, the Office of Crash Avoidance has a $1.2 million Drowsy Driver Program to, initially, develop, test, and evaluate a drowsiness warning system for commercial drivers. We'll get back to the commercial drivers -- and no, they aren't including motorcycle messengers under that head -- in a bit.

Meanwhile, the police test for those characteristics they have instruments to test. And that determines what and whom magistrates prosecute. With only the SFST and DECP available, the consequences can be dicey.

I don't know what it is about me and mine (clean living and lots of fiber, maybe, plus regular oil changes), but my motorcycling friends don't seem to collect tickets. Recently, though, I talked with two older friends who drive four-wheelers, both of whom appear unusually vulnerable to flaws in the present system of impairment testing.

Walt is a retired workers' compensation hearing examiner. He was stopped, a few months back, on his way home from the airport. He knew he hadn't been speeding or otherwise driving recklessly, and he asked the officer what he was being pulled over for. He was told to wait while his license and registration were checked, and he began to get a bit riled. When the officer returned, if we can believe the story, Walt said, "Look, I'm feeling a bit tired. . . "

At that point, the duck came down and Harpo gave Walt a wedgie. (If you're not familiar with the Marx Brothers, that's an allusion to Walt's having said the magic word; and I don't mean "Please.") Walt was immediately told, "Well then, sir, you have already committed a crime [a crime?!]; because if you're tired you should pull over to the side of the road and then rest until you're able to resume driving. We had three phone calls describing your car and complaining that you were driving irresponsibly"; and Walt was forthwith given a ticket for negligence with a "collateral (a fine)," if Walt wished to accept the charges and pay it, of $120.

If this story is accurate as it was related to me, here is a big-picture view of what happened. The police were given reason to suspect impairment, secondhand. They stopped Walt, and, I speculate, decided based on the initial brief conversation that there was no justification for administering the SFST: no reason to believe Walt would fail it. Lacking any other way to measure impairment, and not having actually tailed him and personally observed unsafe driving, they had to latch on to Walt's words in order to find a basis for writing a ticket.

I imagine that the charge would have thudded to ignominious death when any judge with integrity asked what-for. As it happened, Walt showed up for a preliminary hearing and the officer did not, which terminated the whole sorry mess. The federal magistrate said, "The case is dismissed. I assume that you're happy." (Walt bit his tongue.)

Sam's our other example. Sam's a semi-retired State Department safety consultant who, a month or so back, came down with a bad case of shingles (a medical condition that inflames the skin and can thoroughly wipe you out). His skin is back to normal, but it will take as much as six months before he is steady on his feet. He's now at the point where he can drive safely -- the dizziness is gone -- but just imagine a policeman watching him waver towards his car! His appearance would certainly seem to justify administering the SFST, and can you picture Sam trying to stand on one leg?

So drowsiness is an impairment risk factor for which there is no test, and, as in Walt's case, when they suspect it the police have to make do. There are many additional types of impairment that are not easily evaluated.

No, the police aren't necessarily so very short-sighted as to assume alcohol, other drugs, or nothing. First Sergeant Bill Tower, an information officer with the Maryland State Police tells a different story about fatigue. He says that when a driver is stopped, training and experience may lead the officer in a completely different direction than assuming drug impairment. Was the driver fatigued? No, there's no test. In fact, if fatigue is the problem, Sergeant Tower believes that being stopped probably will cause enough of an adrenalin rush to wash that fatigue away for the duration of the SFST, unless drugs are also involved. He says it's very, very rare for someone to be arrested for simply driving when too tired.

Or there could be a medical or psychological problem, he says. Police are trained to gather data from talking with drivers, observing them as they get out of their cars or off their bikes, watching them walk, all this will provide information to help judge the likely source of impairment. When the cause of the erratic driving does seem likely to be a medical problem, they will be quickly brought to where they can receive diagnosis and treatment; lives have been saved. If indeed fatigue seems to be the cause, pure and simple, the driver has still earned a ticket for tailgating or running a light, but may be told to pull over and take a nap, instead of being arrested.

So what about those medical problems? If you're one of the rare persons who doesn't make the effort to do what you know can be done to take charge of your Lupus, or diabetes, or epilepsy, or narcolepsy, or schizophrenia, or whatever, so that you can drive safely, it's not simply a "too bad." in Maryland, and in other states, the police can take you off the road, if you have been driving unsafely. They can refer you to the Motor Vehicle Administration for retesting, or to the Medical Advisory Board for evaluation.

Being awake and fully-functional is not enough to make for safe driving. In February 1997, University of Toronto researchers reported that talking on a cellular phone while driving (we're back to Walt's case from another angle) increases accident risk four-fold, to a level equivalent to that associated with drunk driving. The research was based on analysis of what happened during 27,000 cell-phone calls, so we're not talking a mock-up experiment with undergraduates, but bloody reality.

There's not a whole lot that can be done about people's driving and drinking -- or eating, or chatting, or . . ., except to say, "Bad Idea!" (Yes, in some areas it is illegal to drive with an open container in the car, but it has to be an open container of alcoholic beverage. You can bury your face in a coffee or a ginger ale or a root beer and not get hassled, if you avoid crashing.) Alcohol impairment is the one to watch for, in terms of tickets. The SFST is validated, and pretty widely accepted. A breath testing instrument is relatively non-invasive, and it yields a reading, a number, that is hard to argue with in court.

So much for tickets. Let's step back and just think about safety. Ignoring your body's signals and cycles is serious risk-taking. While most of us have to keep going, on occasion, even when we'd rather chill out, there's a point where "tired" segues into "sleepy."

When it comes to the realm of Bad Ideas, driving when exhausted is hard to top. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported in 1990 that many more accidents in over-the-road driving are related to sleep deprivation than was previously estimated. In fact, although their study of 182 fatal truck accidents actually was looking for the effects of alcohol and illegal drugs, they discovered fatigue to be a much greater factor. It was indicted in about 31 percent of the deaths.

(Why are we back to commercial drivers? Willie Sutton kept visiting banks because that's where the money is. Researchers look at Commercial Vehicle Operators because truckers are the people who put in the long hours and miles. There are several more specific reasons that NHTSA focused on truck accidents. First, over-the-road truckers have to pass far more rigorous standards to get and keep their commercial licenses. Second, a higher proportion of truck than passenger vehicle crashes are due to drowsy driving, especially per mile, per vehicle life, and per amount of night driving. And a sizable proportion of the fatalities and injuries associated with crashes due to drowsy trucking are suffered by people outside the trucks. But only a fool would assume NHTSA's data are irrelevant to bikers.}


In early 1996, the NTSB reported on a follow-up study of non-fatal truck accidents. If driver fatigue is a driving danger, what's key in creating that fatigue?

To identify fatigue-related accidents, researchers tallied physical evidence showing not just driver error, but theabsence of specific driver errors or vehicle problems. Did their brakes fail, were they going too fast for road conditions, did they hit gravel, or patches of oil? Or did they simply drift off the road? Tire marks can sometimes tell the tale. Now we're looking not just at impairment, but at the types of impairment that cause inattention rather than recklessness.

The drivers investigated in the second study were extensively grilled to determine which of 18 suspect factors contributed most to driver fatigue accidents.

Which elements emerged?

Number of hours at the wheel, for example, was not a significant contributor. The biggest factor researchers found was how little sleep they got the last time their heads hit a pillow.

The next biggest factor was how much sleep they had gotten in the last 24 hours.

The third was whether their sleep was in one stretch, broken up over the 24 hours.

You wouldn't consider those who nodded off to be terribly under slept. Compared with drivers whose accidents did not involve fatigue, they were short only two-and-a-half hours of sleep, on average, the last time they lay down -- and likewise short about the same amount over 24 hours.

These "sleep-deprived" drivers are people who may have slept reasonable-sounding amounts. What's more, all considered themselves well-rested

Put those factors together, and the result was an 80% hit rate (pun definitely intended) in predicting whether or not an accident was fatigue-related or not fatigue-related.

No, I did not say fatigue gives you an 80% chance of having an accident. We don't have numbers for overall increased risk -- this was not epidemiological research. But if you are in an accident, telling those researchers what your sleep pattern has been will give them an 80% hit rate in predicting whether the evidence will show your accident to have been caused by fatigue or by other factors. With that strong an effect, I think you'll agree that we're talking about real impairment.

How much is enough?

What's enough sleep? A shade under seven hours, drivers agreed. Yet those "well-rested" drivers with fatigue-related accidents actually averaged 5.5 hours the last time they tucked themselves in. The drivers whose accidents were not fatigue-related, according to the investigations, averaged eight hours. According to Dr. Mark Rosekind of NASA's Ames Laboratory, the average need is for eight hours -- and most Americans are shy an hour-and-a-half of sleep each night during the work week.

How much sleep is enough varies from person to person. The way to determine your own needs is to see how much you sleep on vacation. Throw away the alarm, wait until your body has stopped automatically waking up for work, send the kids off on a sleep-over if you're a parent, and sleep in a couple of mornings. That's all it takes, says Rosekind - sleep in until you've caught up any sleep deficit. After that, however many hours you find yourself sleeping naturally is about the amount for which your body is programmed.

Quality of sleep

The quality of sleep, Rosekind told me in a late-evening interview, is almost as important as the quantity. If you have a sleep disorder, or an infant who wakes you each night, or a wakeful bladder due to pregnancy or prostate problems -- you may be at risk for fatigue-related accidents, even though you total eight hours' slumber. My experience, and that of acquaintances, says that bodily discomforts can also make it hard to "sleep in" so as to catch up and even to determine how much your body really needs.

We needn't rely on government scientists. Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers have it worse than a motorcycle messenger during a telephone strike. Federal rules say that they can be required to drive 12 hours at a stretch. No, forget about a stretch. The train is supposed to stop if they want to stretch -- or pee. (Not likely that it will, of course.)

Federal rules say that in one scenario engineers can be told to drive 112 hours in one week. The result can be falling asleep at the throttle -- just for a moment, but sometimes for a long enough moment to kill a few people, injure a bunch, and wreak a few million dollars damage.

One of the factors most contributing to fatigue, the locomotive engineers' representative Stephen FitzGerald told me, is the fact that they are on 24-hour call. Engineers' rest can be -- and is -- disrupted at any time. For the first time in history, "human factors/fatigue" is overtaking "track conditions" as the primary cause of train accidents.

According to the New York Times, "Experts estimate that 100 million Americans maintain a serious sleep debt ... they also say that most sleep-deprived people do not realize just how prone they are to falling asleep at the drop of a hat they really are."

The Times went on to quote psychologist James Maas of Cornell. In a Detroit study, 1/3 of subjects who denied ever getting sleepy during the day showed evidence of sleep deprivation. Dr. Maas told the Times, "God help them if they are struck by a sleep seizure while driving a car..."

Maas did have some good news. He said that exercise helps sleep patterns. The best time to take exercise, in terms of improving your night's rest, is between noon and 6 p.m.


Something that doesn't help is that old standby, coffee. Most people get sleepy twice a day: in the hours approaching midnight, and in mid-afternoon. Coffee, the University of Pennsylvania's Dr. David Dinges told me, might get you through that midday lag if you can't take a nap, but it also can mean your night's sleep will be less restful. John Hughes, M.D., of the University of Vermont performed research showing that six million Americans are dependent on caffeine to the point where they get withdrawal symptoms if they quit.

That is where coffee may be most dangerous: withdrawal. Dr. Hughes's research shows that besides irritability, withdrawal can result in headaches, muscle soreness, impaired concentration, drowsiness, anxiety and depression.

Of course, caffeine itself can increase depression and anxiety. That is a subjective effect. (If you think those are strong claims, here's an even wilder one from the other side of the puddle. According to The Guardian, major David Senior was caught with his hands in the till, bilking Britain's Army Air Corps to the tune of $30,000 in inflated claims for the rations he purchased for his men. His defense is that he made the mistake because of caffeinism, due to swigging up to a gallon of tea a day for 20 years.)

Caffeine withdrawal can also impair psychomotor performance. That's not subjective. It means a reduction in job-type competencies such as eye-hand coordination. Hughes surveyed a large sample of doctors. More than three-quarters of them recommended that patients cut, or cut out, caffeine if they suffer from a wide array of physical and emotional symptoms, from fibrocystitis to esophagitis. And what could cutting it out mean? Withdrawal.

Roland Griffiths, PhD, is a behavioral pharmacologist who teaches in the psychiatry and neuroscience departments at Johns Hopkins University. He points out that caffeine has a saving grace, compared to other addictive drugs. There is a point where enough is enough: its use is self-limiting, and not because it puts you in a coma, as some drugs would. After all, you can only drink so much of the stuff.

Dr. Griffiths has also done research on caffeine withdrawal. He finds that about half of caffeine users experience moderate to severe headaches on withdrawal. What's more, he sees only a moderate correlation between how much caffeine you're used to and how bad a headache you will get going cold turkey. Tapering off is much less likely to create problems than is going cold turkey.

Here's a trick question. How many cups of coffee are recommended as part of a normal daily intake? Well, a cup of decaf has about 5 milligrams of caffeine, about the same as a cup of cocoa. A cup of regular, tetraethyl coffee has ... oh, 100-150 milligrams of caffeine per six ounce cup. (And do you know anybody who drinks out of a six-ounce cup?)

The American Dietetic Association recommends that daily caffeine intake range between 50 and 200 milligrams.

The gift that keeps on giving

Unfortunately, it really is the caffeine, not just the sugar or the comforting act of drinking, that keeps you going, physically. In fact, serotonin release from sugar intake can have the reverse effect and make you tired, and do so far more quickly than will the rebound from caffeine.

I asked a dietitian, "Where is caffeine use advisable?" I thought she might say, "Well, if you have to stay alert, a cup of coffee could help." She didn't. Reflecting back to the days when I was an alcoholism counselor, I recalled what people in that business say about a drinker who has a couple of cups of coffee in an effort to "sober himself up for the road." He's called a "wide-awake drunk." The coffee is not going to keep him alert -- just awake. That's why I've spent so much time talking about coffee.

Remember how "microsleep" bedevils the railroad engineers? Well, more than 80% of the fatigue-related accidents investigated by the Federal Railroad Administration, in a recent report, did not involve dozing off. The driver's eyes were open, but he just didn't observe that signal. Anything that blurs the distinction between awake and alert is a safety problem.

What can we do?

Rosekind says there's no magic bullet. People find it very hard to accurately report their level of alertness. According to Rau's group at the Office of Crash Avoidance, "Drowsiness has recently been detected with impressive accuracy, e.g. fluctuations in lateral lane position, 'drift and jerk' steering, eye closure, etc. . . Incipient drowsiness can be observed and measured well before the occurrence of episodes of involuntary sleep. . . . "

Of course, all that is more certain to be observed by someone else than by the drowsy driver. And frankly, by the time I am likely to start behaving that way, I want to have pulled off. I asked Rosekind for some guidance. He said to look for three somewhat related factors that make an accident likely:


          acute sleep deficit and cumulative sleep debt.


          Duty period, that is, how many hours you are on the road, or have to work before you hit the road, without a break


          Circadian effects, meaning hours that your system has not adjusted to, as is the case with trips which result in your being up significantly different hours than you are up during your normal work week.


The only means of prevention is getting enough good quality, deep sleep. For operational purposes, sure, sometimes caffeine will get you through your last stretch of road. Sometimes you'll need a nap. Sometimes an interesting conversation with your passenger can keep you going.

Rosekind is emphatic about the principle that sleep is as vital as food or water. If your body tells you you're tired, he warns, you may need to get our passenger to take over as driver, if that option is available. If you don't, sometimes your body will just put you out -- regardless of personal countermeasures such as guzzling high-test coffee.


Sample Column: "JUST SAY, 'NO (THANK YOU).'" Electrical Contractor Magazine Residential column June, 2001

(C) 2001 by David E. Shapiro

Adults have the responsibility to maintain boundaries. Within the framework of this principle, I'm going to take a column to discuss something that can be habit-forming and dangerous. Yes, I am still on the subject of contracting. I'm thinking about a temptation that comes up in the one-on-one interaction with customers so common in residential contracting. I'm talking about"going along to get along."

When a customer asks you to do something against Code, or otherwise illegal, or unsafe, or simply contrary to the way you've decided to do business, what are your options? Let's take the first type of case, where you're asked to dispense with the rules. Kenny Greenberg's an electrician I respect quite a bit, though I've never met him. Here's what he has to say:

"I don't want to wait until my neighbor's view of how to construct his house somehow inadvertently destroys mine. If he's around to compensate me for the damage, and I happen to be successful after some time in the courts, that does not somehow make it right.

"I'd like some level of quality control applied to things that might affect me. In my case, where my house is under major renovation, I have an architect who has been around so long that he has every license imaginable. At the same time he has a healthy dose of suspicion of authority. But the best part is that he can usually explain every reason for every bit of code we follow. What I often find is (surprise!) most regulations are not arbitrary. This is not to say that they are all correct and absolute. Things change."

Kenny gave us a good clue to how and why to say, "No thank you" when asked to violate Code, skip the permit, or play fast and loose in some other way. Customers may not care that they're asking us to put our licenses in jeopardy. They may not care that they're asking us to do something dangerous to ourselves or them and their families and maybe even their neighbors, or that they're being unfair -- it seems none of their immediate business. But it is ours.

An earlier column talked about the short-sighted way most people make decisions. If we want to budge people so they'll risk looking beyond their noses, we've got to help them understand that burying their heads puts them in danger. Sometimes, like Kenny's architect, we'll have enough insight into the background of the rules to be able to convince customers that ignoring the Code is dangerous. Other times we have to "Just say no" or, more gracefully, "Sorry, no" or "No, thank you."

I put myself in a relatively weak position if I say, "I would be happy to do it that way, but I'm afraid I'd get nailed by the inspector" or "If I don't do it to Code, or don't pull a permit, the insurance company might balk about paying if something goes wrong." It's a matter of tone as much as content. It sounds stronger, more upright to say "I work to Code. For one thing, if I didn't, the inspector might require that it be redone. For another, doing it right minimizes risk-both mine and yours."

While I'm not planning to change my "Just say, 'No, thanks.'" policy, I'm not always delighted with its results. Ron's a plumber with whom I have a good relationship. He installed a dishwasher and washing machine for Willow, and told him I'd be a good person to run circuits for the new equipment. Willow called, but when I mentioned that a permit and inspection would be required, he sounded disgruntled. I called the day before our appointment, as agreed, to firm up the time I would come over. "Oh, I'm going to have to put it off." he said.

I'd lay strong odds that this was bull, in part because Willow had agreed he would call if cancellation proved to be necessary. He never did call. I expect that he found someone willing to skirt the law, someone who saved him the money and hassle involved in inspection. A gamble; still, the odds are that this won't cause him or the other contractor a problem.

We all make our own policy calls.


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          One-off versus ongoing work. I expect to be paid fairly and promptly for a column, and to submit something worth reading and on time. Writing columns shows that I can carry a high level of responsibility compared to selling single features, because my editors count on me and trust my judgement as to what content and tone suit my readers. When I sell a single feature, though, it has a lot more "overhead," because I have to sell features one at a time.



          Expertise required or critical nature of writing. When I take notes for a committee evaluating cancer research, it is essential that I don't misconstrue a single statement. Much of my "secretarial" recording, and even my journalistic interviewing, has far less important consequences. There are some types of editorial work that do not warrant a great deal of expense and do not call on a high level of skill. These include proofreading and simple copy-editing of non-critical material. It rarely is worth the expense of hiring someone like me for these types of work. Anyone who did reasonably well in college English, for example, can catch solecisms such as instances where a sentence begins with a conjunction and a comma. A higher-order copy-editor, who sorts out contradictory (or apparently contradictory) statements of fact, can be worth my rates.



          Special expertise or critical nature of editing. When my task is to help readers follow a writer's thinking, my expertise is matched (and surpassed) by many. When I need to call on my areas of expertise to correct misstatements of fact and protect readers from being misled, I am providing a higher level of service. I will be happy to discuss my charges in these cases. The very highest level of expertise and expense involves rewriting another's work. This can be at least as problematic as ghost-writing.



          Duration of effort. One of the highest-value services I provide publishers is proposal review. I bill such consultation to publishers the same way I bill other consultation that does not involve performing the work myself or correcting problems: by the hour. On a normal schedule, "informal" consultation costs $120 an hour, and formal $150. I will be happy to provide details.

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