October 20, 2014

Start-time variability contributes to fatigue, accidents

FRA_logo_wordsStart time variability in work schedules is often assumed to be a cause of railroad employee fatigue because unpredictable work-start times prevent employees from planning sleep and personal activities.

A new report published by the Federal Railroad Administration examines work start time differences from three different databases previously published by the FRA. The studies conclude that high variability in shift start times is found to contribute to human fatigue, which is known to increase the probability of accidents. Thus, a potential way of increasing safety is to reduce shift start-time variability.

Discussions about employee fatigue in the U.S. railroad industry often focus on the predictability of work start times for employees engaged in train and engine (T&E) freight and passenger service.

According to the FRA, labor union representatives often argue that unpredictable work start times heavily prevent employees from planning sleep and personal activities, which then results in fatigue.

Train and engine employees who work in yards, local freight service, and passenger and commuter operations have jobs with regular start times and high work start time predictability. However, employees on the extra board, which sometimes offers employees additional compensation for volunteering to work additional hours within the statutory limit, have work schedules that may vary from day to day because they fill in for employees with regular assignments.

These jobs have lower work start time predictability. Jobs in passenger service often have a split assignment in which the employee works the morning rush, has time off in the middle of the day (referred to as “interim release”), and returns to work for the evening rush. Interim release is usually four hours or more. These jobs often have high work start time predictability.

Train and engine employees who work in road freight service often do not have a regular work schedule as far as the days that they work or the time that their work starts. These jobs have low start time predictability.

To view the FRA report, click here.