Posts Tagged ‘fatigue’

Tired freight rail employees? You bet

railyardA short quiz for you. If you had anything to do with the safe movement of a 10,000 ton freight train, does it make sense for you to routinely show up to work tired? Hint: NO.

That’s the problem we have today in the freight rail industry. Too many tired employees are involved in operating trains and maintaining electric signal systems. But there are solutions: curb the unpredictable work schedules and hours worked and end the practice of gaming the rules on how railroads “count” the hours worked by their signal employees.

So here’s a quick glimpse into the tired lives of members of the two TTD affiliates that are leading the charge for common sense reforms – the SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen.

Although current rules limit a work shift to 12 hours and mandate 10 hours of undisturbed rest after a shift, the boss can call an employee to work at any time after that 10-hour period of rest with two hours’ or less notice. Here’s a real world example. You are a rail worker, and you have just spent the day on yard work. You finally get cleaned up, sit down to eat a hot meal, start thinking about a nap when the phone rings and you find you have less than two hours to prepare yourself for a full shift. Sound fair?

Congress and the Obama Administration need to change what are referred to as “hours-of-service” laws by moving the required 10 hours of undisturbed rest from immediately after service to immediately before service. Effectively, these workers should be given 10 hours’ notice before being expected to report for work. This gives them the predictability they need to get the appropriate amount of rest before their shift starts rather than after they leave work. Or, as an alternative, they should be assigned predictable work schedules. Neither happens today.

Signal employees face a different problem with the same outcome. At issue are definitions of “covered work.” For example, when a signalman on duty is digging a ditch in order to install a railroad signal, the time spent digging the ditch does not count toward the hours-of-service limit. Only certain work is counted. Huh? Yes, somehow in the freight rail industry digging a ditch for a signal system installation is not considered work and apparently doesn’t lead to any fatigue. This must change too.

The freight rail industry is a place where men and women can secure middle-class careers. But too often their working lives are spent in a state of chronic fatigue. If our government closes the regulatory loopholes and stops employers from using technicalities to evade or game the rules, we will have a safer freight rail industry.

 (The preceding appeared on the website of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.)

'Highway hypnosis' could be factor in derailment

NEW YORK – It’s sometimes called “highway hypnosis” or “white-line fever,” and it’s familiar to anyone who has ever driven long distances along a monotonous route.

Drivers are lulled into a semitrance state and reach their destination with little or no memory of parts of the trip. But what if it happened to an engineer at the controls of a speeding passenger train?

Read the complete Associated Press story at the Times Herald-Record.

Engineer says cell phone not factor in crash

The engineer of one of two ore trains that crashed head-on just outside of Two Harbors, Minn., in 2010 is taking issue with the National Transportation Safety Board report on the accident, disputing that cell phone use by the train crews was a relevant factor.

In an exclusive interview with the News-Chronicle Feb. 20, Dan Murphy, engineer of the northbound train, conceded that he had used his phone on the day of the Sept. 30, 2010, accident, but that the call was less than a minute and in no way interfered with his duties.

Read the complete story at Lake County News Chronicle.

FRA issues new report on fatigue

The Federal Railroad Administration has issued a new report on the status of fatigue among railroad industry employees.

In 2001, the FRA began examining the fatigue status of safety-critical railroad employees by using logbooks to collect work and sleep data over a period of two weeks from a representative sample of employees in each group.

The research in this report was conducted prior to implementation of the Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), which made significant changes to limitations on hours of work for railroad employees. Consequently, the information in this report can serve as a baseline for examining the adequacy of existing statutory or regulatory limitations on hours of work to prevent worker fatigue.

This report draws on the results of several prior studies, all conducted with similar methodology, to characterize the prevalence of employee fatigue in the U.S. railroad industry.

Data from logbook surveys of signalmen, maintenance of way workers, dispatchers, and train and engine service employees were combined to examine the relationship between work schedules and sleep patterns.

Railroaders make up for lack of sleep on workdays by sleeping longer on rest days. This strategy is used to a greater extent among by certain groups such as signalmen working four 10-hour days, first shift dispatchers, and train and engine service workers on jobs with a fixed start time.

T&E workers in passenger service with a split assignment have a shorter primary sleep period than those working straight through or working extra board assignments, but they have similar total daily sleep because they sleep during their interim release.

Overall, U.S. railroad workers are more likely than U.S. working adults to get less than seven hours of total sleep on workdays, but railroad workers average more total sleep when sleep on workdays and rest days are combined.

Logbook data for work and sleep indicates that T&E workers and third shift dispatchers have the most fatigue exposure and passenger T&E workers have the least. Railroad workers in all groups had less fatigue exposure than those involved in human factors accidents.

The key findings of this report are as follows:

•The risk of a human factors accident is elevated 11 to 65 percent above chance by exposure to fatigue.

•The economic cost of a human factors accident when an employee is very fatigued is approximately $1,600,000, compared to $400,000 in the absence of fatigue.

•Amount of sleep and the time of day when sleep occurs account for 85 to 96 percent of fatigue exposure. Work schedules determine the amount and time of day of sleep.

•Dispatchers and T&E workers have the highest exposure to fatigue. They are also the groups that have the longest work hours and work at night.

•T&E as a group has significant fatigue exposure, but passenger T&E is the group with the least fatigue exposure. The predictability of passenger T&E schedules and less nighttime work explains this difference.

•The fatigue exposure of all groups is less than that of employees involved in human factors accidents, which indicates a relationship between fatigue and accidents.

•Significant differences resulting from job type and schedule exist in the sleep patterns of railroad workers. Analysis of data collected through a logbook study allows for identification of the differences that are not otherwise apparent.

•The sleep pattern of railroad workers differs from that of U.S. working adults. Railroad workers are more likely to get less than seven hours of total sleep on workdays, which puts them at risk of fatigue. On average, however, they obtain more total sleep than U.S. working adults, when total sleep hours on workdays and rest days are combined.

•Railroad workers in all groups reported sleep disorders that exceed U.S. norms for working adults. Of these, all but 2.4 percent were receiving treatment.

•The FRA fatigue model (FAST) provides a valid method of assessing fatigue exposure as a function of work schedule and sleep pattern.

These findings suggest that strategies for reducing railroad worker fatigue include improving the predictability of schedules and educating workers about human fatigue and sleep disorders.

To view the complete report, click here.

High-tech chicken soup to ease fatigue

Sleep, fatigue, workplace safety and quality of life are stitched together tighter than the seams on a major league baseball – and unpredictable work schedules can undo those stitches faster than a Stephen Strasburg 100-mph heater.

A new website, created by sleep scientists at Harvard Medical School, the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and the Federal Railroad Administration – following anonymous survey input from train and engine workers represented by the UTU and the BLET – provides train and engine workers an interactive guide to a better understanding of factors that contribute to and inhibit proper rest.

The Railroaders’ Guide to Healthy Sleep website provides articles, videos, a game, a quiz and illustrations intended to help understand your body clock, recognize sleep impediments, reduce fatigue, stay alert and safe, and improve your quality of life.

Consider it high-tech chicken soup for the overworked rail struggling to balance work and family life.

Included are practical steps to combat fatigue by adjusting nap times and consumption of caffeine and other beverages and foods, and practical ways to deal with individual variations in sleep needs and the daily ups and downs in human alertness and sleepiness.

A quiz helps you determine how well you sleep, while an interactive game permits you to test your reaction time.

There also is information on sleep apnea and other sleep problems, and how to find sleep specialists in your neck of the woods.

Give the website a thorough test drive by clicking on the following link:

For many rails, the website may ensure your returning home in one piece – and for all rails, the website will help you achieve a better balance between work and family life.

FAA announces new pilot fatigue rules

WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced new rules aimed at preventing dangerous fatigue among passenger aircraft pilots. The rules do not affect all-cargo aircraft pilots.

The new rules are in response to a Colgan Air crash near Buffalo, N.Y., in 2009 that killed 50 people. 

Under the new rules:

• Flight-duty times would range from nine to 14 hours. Additionally, rather than just counting flight time and rest time, flight-duty time would include the time spent flying to the job, which, as in railroading, is called deadheading;

• Flight-time limits will be eight or nine hours, depending on the start time of the pilot’s entire flight duty.

• Minimum rest periods will be 10 hours between shifts. The pilot must have an opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep during that rest period.

• Pilots must have 30 consecutive hours of rest each week, which is a 25 percent increase over current standards. 

The new rules do, however, allow pilots to sit at the controls for an hour longer per day, from eight hours to as many as nine. 

Also, pilots flying late at night, across multiple time zones or on schedules involving numerous landings and takeoffs, will work shorter shifts than those flying during the day. 

The rule also requires pilots to sign paperwork verifying that they are rested before each flight, in an attempt to educate them and highlight the need for personal responsibility. 

The National Transportation Safety Board has urged safety enhancements to reduce pilot fatigue for decades. Although the board didn’t blame fatigue as a cause in the Colgan crash, it found that neither pilot appeared to have slept in a bed the night before the accident. 

The rules will take effect in two years, and cost passenger airlines $297 million over 10 years. The rules will, however, save airlines $247 million to $470 million in reduced accidents and lower health-care expenses for pilots, according to the FAA.

NTSB: Latest safety recommendations

WASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board has updated its “Most Wanted” transportation safety improvements. Included are recommendations for improved bus, rail and aviation safety.

Following are the NTSB’s comments of interest to UTU members:


Airplanes, buses and trains are complex machines that require the full attention of the operator, maintenance person and other individuals performing safety-critical functions.

Consequently, the cognitive impairments to these individuals that result from fatigue due to insufficient or poor quality sleep are critical factors to consider in improving transportation safety.

Operators of transportation vehicles need to have sufficient off-duty time to obtain sufficient sleep. But duty schedules are only part of the equation. Even when an individual has enough time to get rest, medical conditions, living environment, and personal choices can affect the ability to obtain quality sleep.

Human fatigue is subtle; at any given point, the traveling public could be at risk because those operating airplanes, buses or trains, or the individuals responsible for maintaining vehicles, do not realize until it is too late that they cannot safely complete their duties because of fatigue.

To make matters worse, people frequently are not aware of, or may deny, ability impairments caused by fatigue. Just because an operator or mechanic is not yawning or falling asleep does not necessarily mean that he or she is not fatigued.

What can be done: Continued research on the manifestations of fatigue will help in further identifying mechanisms that can counter, and ultimately eliminate, fatigue.

Such research needs to recognize the unique aspects of fatigue associated with each mode of transportation, such as the effect of crossing multiple time zones or being required to work during periods of the day when circadian rhythms increase the risk of fatigue.

Fatigue-countering mechanisms must include science-based, data-driven hours-of-service limits.

The medical oversight system must recognize the dangers of sleep-related medical impairments, such as obstructive sleep apnea, and incorporate mechanisms for identifying and treating affected individuals.

Employers should also establish science-based fatigue management systems that involve all parties (employees, management, interest groups) in developing environments to help identify the factors that cause fatigue; and monitor operations to detect the presence of fatigue before it becomes a problem.

Because “powering through” fatigue is simply not an acceptable option, fatigue management systems need to allow individuals to acknowledge fatigue without jeopardizing their employment.

Bus Safety

Motorcoaches are among the safest vehicles on the road. They are rarely involved in highway accidents.

However, motorcoaches transport 750 million passengers annually, with each bus carrying a substantial number of people. Therefore, when something does go wrong, more people are at risk of death or injury. As in any traffic crash, an occupant’s chance of surviving and avoiding injury increases when the person is retained in the vehicle, and particularly in his or her seating position.

Without standards for roof strength, window glazing, and a protected seating area, motor coach accidents can be catastrophic. Even when the motorcoach remains relatively intact during an accident, passengers lacking a protective seating environment can be thrown from their seating area and killed or injured.

What can be done: Adequate standards for roof strength, window glazing, and occupant protection must be developed and implemented. These standards must ensure that the vehicles maintain survivable space for occupants during all types of crashes with significant crash forces, including rollovers.

Manufacturers are moving ahead with various seating area safety options, such as seat belts, but the development and implementation of government standards is needed to ensure a consistent level of safety across the fleet. Motorcoach interiors should be more occupant friendly in order to prevent injury in the event of a crash.

In addition, after a crash, occupants need to be able to identify exits and quickly leave the vehicle.

Commercial Aviation

Crew resource management (CRM) training is designed to improve crew coordination, resource allocation and error management in the cockpit. CRM training augments technical training, enhances pilots’ performance and encourages all flight crew members to identify and assertively announce potential problems by focusing on situational awareness, communications skills, teamwork, task allocation, and decision-making within a comprehensive framework of standard operating procedures.

Takeoffs and landings, in which the risk of a catastrophic accident is particularly high, are considered the most critical phases of flight.

Unlike the airspace above the United States, which spans millions of square miles, the runway environment is a far more limited area, often with a steady stream of aircraft taking off and landing on intersecting runways, sometimes in poor weather and with limited visibility.

What can be done: Reducing the likelihood of runway collisions is dependent on the situational awareness of the pilots and time available to take action — often a matter of just a few seconds. A direct in-cockpit warning of a probable collision or of a takeoff attempt on the wrong runway can give pilots advance notice of these dangers.

Requiring specific air traffic control clearance for each runway crossing would reduce the chances that an airplane will inadvertently taxi onto an active runway on which another aircraft is landing or taking off.

Situational awareness is also important in addressing runway excursions. Pilots need accurate information on runway conditions. Equipment should be properly set for takeoff or landing and function properly.

Pilot training and procedures should emphasize conducting distance assessments for all landings, especially on contaminated runways; training on maximum performance stopping on a slippery runway; and identifying the appropriate runway for their aircraft.

Transport-employee fatigue continues to kill

While sleep scientists have established that going to work fatigued is like going to work drunk, there remains a disconnect among those who manage transportation firms. And people are needlessly dying and being seriously injured as a result.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood June 1 criticized his own Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for not sooner putting a North Carolina bus operator — allegedly with a history of safety problems, including forcing drivers to work without sufficient rest — out of business sooner.

When the FMCSA finally got around to taking that shutdown action against the bus company May 31, four more lives were lost and 54 more passengers were injured.

The cause of that rollover bus accident near Richmond, Va., May 27 was driver fatigue, according to Virginia State Police, who jailed the bus operator for reckless driving. Seven times since October 2009, the bus company — Sky Express of Charlotte, N.C. — had been cited by the FMCSA for violating federal hours-of-service regulations requiring adequate rest for drivers, according to USA Today.

“I’m extremely disappointed that this carrier was allowed to continue operating unsafely when it should have been placed out of service,” LaHood told USA Today.

Sky Express received an “unsatisfactory” safety rating in April from the FMCSA, according to USA Today, but the FMCSA extended its investigation to, according to an FMCSA spokesperson, “make sure we had an airtight case to shut the company down.”

LaHood told USA Today, “There is no excuse for delay when a bus operator should be put out of service for safety’s sake. On my watch, there will never be another extension granted to a carrier we believe is unsafe.”

The FMCSA said Sky Express had numerous violations for keeping fatigued drivers behind the wheel and failing to ensure its drivers were properly licensed, had proper medical certificates, and could read road signs in English.

The National Transportation Safety Board blamed driver fatigue for a 2008 bus crash in Utah that killed nine, and a 2004 crash in Arkansas that killed 14. A fatal bus crash near New York City March 12, which killed 15, is under investigation. The company operating the bus was cited five times in fewer than two years for allowing fatigued drivers behind the wheel.

UTU members should note that federal law protects aviation, bus and rail workers from retaliation and threats of retaliation when they report that a carrier violated federal hours-of-service regulations.

Whistle-blower complaints may be filed directly with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), or you may contact a UTU designated legal counsel, your general chairperson or your state legislative director for assistance.

To view a more detailed OSHA fact sheet on whistle-blower protection, click on the following link:

Pay, benefits keys to better bus safety

Calvin Studivant

By Calvin Studivant
Alternate vice president, Bus Department

Fatigue management was a topic of significant importance earlier this month at a National Transportation Safety Board forum I attended in Washington, D.C.

The troubling news from the forum is that non-union bus operators, employed by so-called low-cost carriers, are being forced to work too many hours, with many of the drivers clearly in violation of hours-of-service regulations.

For too many non-union bus operators, pay is so low they are compromised into working excessive hours to feed their families — and that means driving while fatigued. That’s not only unlawful; it’s dangerous.

Medical experts who study fatigue have concluded that going to work fatigued is like going to work drunk.

An effective solution is not necessarily revising the hours-of-service regulations; but rather revising the law that permits non-union carriers to avoid paying their drivers overtime rates.

At no time should low driver earnings be allowed to compromise safety, but that is the situation too many low-paid, non-union operators face.

Lack of training is another problem for non-union operators employed by carriers whose primary interest is putting a driver — no matter how poorly paid or poorly trained — behind the wheel.

Much emphasis is being placed on revising hours-of-service regulations and installing new technology such as collision warning systems and lane departure warnings. Yes, they are important in assuring safety.

Too often overlooked is the ability of carriers to intimidate drivers into violating the hours-of-service law; and the fact that new technology is not, in itself, a solution to the fatigue problem.

In my mind, it makes eminent good sense to put equal or more emphasis on assuring only qualified, alert and non-fatigued drivers are behind the wheel — drivers who are properly trained and properly recruited with competitive wage and benefits packages.

Within the UTU, we recognize this in our contracts, and it is time for federal and state regulators to recognize the issue among the growing number of so-called low-cost bus companies that put profit ahead of safety.

Take, for example, a bill currently being considered by the U.S. Senate — S. 453, the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act. The bill would require safety improvements in construction of new buses, but missing in that bill is recognition that assuring the hiring and retention of properly qualified, fully trained and competitively paid drivers is equally important in assuring safe passenger transportation.

I will be leading discussions on these issues at our regional meetings in San Antonio and New York in June and July, and I hope as many of our drivers as possible will attend these regional meeting bus workshops.

We also will be discussing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new rules for obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and commerical learner’s permit (CLP). Those new rules are posted on the UTU webpage.

In the San Antonio and New York regional meetings we also will be discussing opportunities for federal grants to help improve the skills of labor negotiators and encourage innovative approaches to collaborative labor-management problem solving. We will work with the UTU National Legislative Office and President Futhey to make application for a grant to the UTU.

I also call your attention to the Bus Department page of the UTU website at A link has been added on that page to a recent DOT Motorcoach Safety Action Plan. Scroll down on that page and the link is in the fourth column to the right, under “Bus Safety”. The new FMCSA rules on obtaining a CDL and CLP also appear there.

UTU to Congress: Eliminate fatigue, boost safety

WASHINGTON — The single most important action Congress and the Federal Railroad Administration can take to improve rail safety — especially in the movement of hazardous materials — is to eliminate train-crew fatigue and provide predictable start times for train crews.

That was the message delivered April 7 to the House Railroad Subcommittee by UTU National Legislative Director James Stem. The subcommittee met to learn more about rail hazmat safety.

“The unpredictable work schedules of safety critical operating employees in the railroad industry has and continues to be the root cause of the fatigue problems that have placed many releases of hazardous materials on the front pages of our newspapers,” Stem told the subcommittee.

Although the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) provides for 10 hours of undisturbed rest between work assignments, “the application is misplaced because it does nothing to improve the predictability of reporting times nor does it allow employees the opportunity to plan their rest before reporting for duty,” Stem said.

“One small improvement that will make a tremendous difference in the safety for all train operations is simply to move the required 10 hours of undisturbed rest from immediately following service to immediately preceding service,” Stem said.

“The minimum of 10 hours of notification before reporting for 12 hours or more of safety critical service will allow operating employees to get their proper rest prior to reporting for duty so they can safety and alertly operate their train while on duty.

“An even greater safety enhancement would be to assign regular start times for each crew, or at a minimum require that crews be notified before going off duty of the time they must report back for service,” he said.

Stem told the subcommittee that many railroads “have worked hard since RSIA was passed to develop new software programs to enable their operations to deny the required rest days for employees. Many employees are required to observe their only day off while laying over in a one-star hotel at the away from home terminal.

“The itemized six-and-two and seven-and-three work-rest schedules in the RSIA remain a dream for 95 percent of our freight operating employees,” Stem said.

The UTU’s national legislative director also stressed a need for more frequent track inspections. “Timely track inspections by qualified track inspectors should be conducted with a frequency directly proportional to the amount of traffic passing over a track segment,” Stem told the subcommittee.

Stem provided the subcommittee, on behalf of the UTU and its members, a list of 24 specific recommendations to reduce crew fatigue:

  1. Railroad employees covered by the hours of service law shall be provided a predictable and defined work/rest period.
  2. A 10-hour call for all unassigned road service. This provision would require the 10 hours of undisturbed rest be provided immediately prior to performing covered service instead of immediately following service.
  3. All yard service assignments with defined start times will be covered by the same provisions that now apply to passenger and commuter rail.
  4. All yardmaster assignments will be HOS-covered service under the freight employees’ rule.
  5. The FRA shall issue regulations within 12 months to require all deadhead transportation in excess of a certain number of hours to be counted as time on duty and a job start.
  6. No amount of time off-duty at the away from home terminal will reset the calendar clock of job starts, and the employee shall not be required to take mandatory rest days at the away from home terminal.
  7. 24 hours off duty at the home terminal which does not include a full calendar day will reset the calendar clock.
  8. Interim release periods require notification to the crew before going off duty. If the crew is not notified, the 10 hours uninterrupted rest will prohibit changing the service to include an interim release.
  9. There shall be a two-hour limit on limbo time per each tour of duty.
  10. There shall be assigned a minimum of 24 hours off duty at the designated home terminal in each seven-day period during which time the employee shall be unavailable for any service for the railroad. The off-duty period shall encompass a minimum of one full calendar day and the employee shall be notified not less than seven calendar days prior to the assigned off duty period.
  11. A railroad shall provide hot nutritious food 24 hours a day at the sleeping quarters when the crew is at the designated away from home terminal, and at an interim release location. If such food is not provided on a railroad’s premises, a restaurant that provides such food shall not be located more than five minutes normal walking distance from the employee’s sleeping quarters or other rest facility. Fast food establishments shall not satisfy the requirements of this subsection.
  12. A railroad shall be prohibited from providing sleeping quarters in areas where switching or humping operations are performed.
  13. Not later than 12 months after the date of enactment of this act, the FRA shall promulgate a regulation requiring whistle-board signs allocated at least 1/4 mile in advance of public highway-rail grade crossings. Provided, however, such regulation shall not apply to such crossings that are subject to a whistle ban.
  14. Under the railroad whistle-blower law, the secretary of labor shall have subpoena power to require the production of documents and/or the attendance of witnesses to give testimony.
  15. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, regulation or order, whenever Congress enacts legislation mandating that the FRA promulgate a railroad safety regulation, there shall be no requirement for a cost/benefit analysis by the FRA.
  16. During an accident/incident investigation process, upon request, a railroad shall produce event recorder information to law enforcement personnel and to the designated employee representative(s) defined under the Railway Labor Act.
  17. In an engineer or conductor decertification proceeding, if the FRA issues a final order in favor of an employee, a railroad shall be prohibited from subsequently attempting to discipline such employee for any alleged acts which may have arisen from the incident involved in the decertification proceeding.
  18. In an engineer or conductor certification or decertification proceeding the FRA shall have the authority to require the retesting of the employee, to order the employee’s reinstatement with the same seniority status the employee would be entitled to but for decertification or refusal of certification, and to grant any other or further relief that the FRA deems appropriate.
  19. All federal railroad safety laws and regulations shall be subject only to the preemption requirements set forth in the Federal Railroad Safety Act.
  20. A railroad owned or operated by a state or other governmental entity shall, as a condition of being a recipient of federal funds, agree immediately thereafter the receipt of such funds to waive any defense of sovereign immunity in a cause of action for damages brought against such railroad alleging a violation of a federal railroad safety law or regulation pursuant to title 28, 45, or 49, United States Code.
  21. No state law or regulation covering walkways for railroad employees shall be preempted or precluded until such time as the FRA promulgates a regulation which substantially subsumes the subject matter.
  22. In any claim alleging a violation of a federal railroad safety law, a settlement of such claim cannot release a cause of action, injury or death which did not exist at the time of settlement of such claim.
  23. An employee of the NTSB or the FRA who previously worked as a railroad employee has the right to return to railroad employment with all seniority retained.
  24. Amtrak shall not be liable for damages or liability, in a claim arising out of an accident or incident unless the said Corporation is negligent in causing the accident or incident.

Worker input crucial to reducing rail risks

If a congressionally ordered railroad risk reduction program is to be effective, the Federal Railroad Administration must include railroad employees and their labor unions in the process of evaluating and managing the program.

That is the message seven rail labor organizations sent to the FRA Feb. 8 in response to an earlier FRA notice of proposed rulemaking implementing a risk reduction program.

The program was ordered by Congress in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA). Its purpose is to reduce the consequences and rates of railroad accidents, incidents, injuries and fatalities.

The UTU was joined by the American Train Dispatchers Association, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, Brotherhood of Railway Carmen and Transport Workers Union in commenting to the FRA.

Congress specifically concluded that having railroads “unilaterally decide issues of safety would not be in the public interest,” the UTU and the other labor organizations told the FRA. Yet, the notice of proposed rulemaking “undermines” that congressional intent.

To ensure an effective risk reduction program, the FRA must solicit rail labor input and participation, said the labor organizations. Specific to train and engine workers, such participation must include:

  • Technology implementation.
  • Fatigue management.
  • Risks posed by joint operations, including passenger and commuter trains.
  • Security risks.
  • National Transportation Safety Board recommendations.
  • Disclosure of all carrier bonus, incentive and compensation systems that reward management employees for meeting or exceeding safety related goals, targets, benchmarks or milestones.
  • Disclosure of policies and data related to waiver and discipline practices that in any way discourage accurate reporting of accidents, incidents, injuries or close calls.

The labor organizations also asked the FRA to develop historical data on the following:

  • Number of disciplinary charges filed for rule violations.
  • Number of whistle-blower cases filed by employees.
  • Number of employee dismissals.
  • Number of FRA reportable injuries.
  • Number of meet and confer sessions related to safety.
  • Safety records of regional and shortline railroads.
  • Retaliation, intimidation and overall culture, attitude and policy toward safety reporting by employees.
  • Safety incentive programs and policies that create peer pressure within work groups not to report injuries in order to preserve incentive prizes.
  • A carrier’s past response to risk, hazards, defects, near misses and safety complaints reported by employees.
  • The effectiveness of operating rules and practices in risk reduction.
  • The effectiveness of safety and training programs.

Additionally, the labor organizations asked the FRA to “pay particular attention to railroads that regularly intimidate employees to cut corners [and] hold formal hearings and discipline employees whenever accidents or injuries are reported.”

The process for evaluating and managing a risk reduction program must also include direct employee input, said the labor organizations. “There is no substitute for interviewing employees actually doing the work,” and such interviews should mask the identity of employees to ensure “they may speak freely.”

Of special importance to train and engine workers is the implementation of a fatigue management plan. “A human being cannot possibly be rested to work safely unless that human being knows when they must report for service,” said the labor organizations. “Often, safety critical employees are forced to report for service even when fatigued, or [they] face disciplinary hearings and loss of employment.

“We encourage the FRA to take immediate action to require 10 hours of advance notification for all operating employees not otherwise on assignments with defined start times,” said the labor organizations.

To read the comments of the seven labor organizations, click here.

To read the FRA’s earlier notice of proposed rulemaking, click on the following link:

UTU rails urged to take survey on sleep, fatigue

An educational website focusing on sleep, sleep disorders and fatigue management is being created in a collaborative effort among the UTU, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the Federal Railroad Administration, sleep medicine experts at Harvard Medical School, and Boston Public Radio station WGBH, which is Public Broadcasting’s largest producer of education  web and television content.

Input from UTU rail members, nationwide, is essential to the project.

UTU members are encouraged to complete an anonymous, online survey that should take no more than 15 minutes.

To respond to the question and complete the survey, click on the following link:

Additional information on the project and its website — Sleep Health for Railroaders — is available by clicking on the following link: