Fatigue

 

BLET President Pierce challenges railroads on fatigue, attendance policies

Locomotive engineer fatigue remains a major safety issue in the railroad industry, and BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce challenged the CEOs of North America’s six largest freight railroads to work with the BLET to help alleviate the issue. A less punitive approach to employee relations would go a long way toward making the industry safer, President Pierce said.

In a letter dated September 22, 2015, Pierce wrote: “This is to alert you to a significant problem facing … locomotive engineers who are being forced by threat of an attendance policy violation to work when fatigued, even though such safety-critical locomotive engineers honesty believe that working in such circumstances would jeopardize safety.”

Countless National Transportation Safety Board accident reports show that fatigued operating employees pose a significant safety risk for every railroad, and that “fatigue induced performance degradation” all too often contributes to or directly causes accidents. Fatigue can seriously degrade task performance, leading to longer reaction times, memory problems, poor decision-making, workload shedding, and inefficient information processing.

Pierce said a main cause of fatigue is variable work schedules, which result in unpredictable and inconsistent patterns of awake and sleep time for engineers. However, the situation is made much worse when railroads routinely fail to provide accurate train lineups.

“Due to the unpredictable nature of their assignments, compounded by glaring deficiencies in the railroad’s train lineups as compared to actual call times, these engineers are more frequently subjected to situations where they are not adequately rested through no fault of their own, despite their being in compliance with carrier calling rules,” Pierce wrote.

Punitive carrier attendance policies only make the situation worse by threatening employees with discipline for attempting to avoid hazardous conditions by laying off due to fatigue. Under current attendance policy rules, engine and train service employees could be suspended from work or even fired for laying off due to fatigue.

“Indeed, there can be no question that even the mere threat of a Carrier policy violation in these circumstance is itself an unfavorable personnel action and/or a denial of a safe place to work that not only is dangerous but may constitute a violation of federal law,” Pierce wrote.

The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) was enacted to promote safe rail operations, and it protects employees who refuse to work in unsafe conditions and who report such conditions to their management supervisors. “Therefore, enforcement of Carrier rules and policies violates the FRSA if it denies employees a safe place to work,” Pierce wrote.

Pierce suggested the carriers include provisions in their attendance policies that allow engineers to lay off when fatigued, exhausted, overworked or otherwise unable to perform safety-critical duties.

“I strongly urge you to instruct your managers to allow locomotive engineers who find themselves fatigued to lay off due to that fatigue without fear of disciplinary retaliation,” Pierce wrote. “It is clear that if forced to work when fatigued by no fault of their own, they will be jeopardizing their own safety as well as the safe operation of the trains to which they are assigned, which in turn directly endangers the safety of the general public and their co-workers.”

Pierce told the involved CEO’s, “I am sure that you share my interest in seeing that unsafe activities that could result in needless accidents and injuries be avoided. I trust you will investigate this situation and take appropriate action so that the interests of the company, its employees, and the general public are protected against the threat that fatigue brings to safe railroad operations.”

A copy of one of the letters is available here:
http://www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/UP_Fatigue_Letter.pdf