Rail Industry Focus

31.10.19

Managing workforce: Fatigue in the rail industry

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2019

 

Workforce fatigue can have a similar effect to drugs or alcohol, making it a very serious worry in the rail industry. Julian Hendon, Network Rail’s programme manager, tells us of their updated Fatigue Improvement Programme to tackle fatigue and further protect individuals at risk.

Network Rail is improving its approach to fatigue risk management by updating its fatigue standard and extending it to cover all staff and contractors by October 2022. This would mean potentially affecting more than 150,000 workers in the supply chain.

Written work on the standard, which currently only applies to staff directly employed by Network Rail, is ongoing, and will be published in December 2019, with implementation set to follow over the next three years.

Fatigue is defined as extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness. With 40,000 employees, the majority of whom are frontline staff whose work is often physical in nature, we take our responsibility to colleagues’ physical and mental wellbeing very seriously.

Our Fatigue Improvement Plan (FIP) recognises that we all suffer from fatigue in one way or another, and it can have a similar effect to drugs and alcohol, for which Network Rail has very strict policies in place. As part of the FIP, we are introducing new rules that require a risk management plan to be agreed when an employee’s working hours – including commute – exceed 14 hours a day. Other triggers for an assessment include instances where a colleague is working more than 60 hours a week, or has less than 12 hours between shifts.

To agree a risk management plan, a Network Rail line manager sits down with their team or an individual and agrees what can be done to help reduce fatigue. This could be something as simple as agreeing all the teams’ break times in advance, or arranging a minibus to share journeys and reduce driving hours.

One of the main issues with fatigue is that an individual may be suffering from its effect but not realise it. Prolonged exposure to sleep deprivation can lead people to believe that reduction in performance, susceptibility to illness and lethargy is normal – meaning they are less likely to properly manage their fatigue.

Furthermore, not everyone becomes fatigued by the same things, so we’re adopting a risk-based approach – reinforcing the shared responsibilities. A large part of the risk-based approach is to ensure positive behavioural and cultural changes around sleep and work/life patterns. This can take time, hence the October 2022 compliance date.

The FIP has also involved educational activity for colleagues, including guest speaker sessions, interactive tools and safety hours – focused on managing fatigue. More are being developed. Through engaging directly with colleagues, we hope to teach them about the dangers of fatigue and demonstrate our commitment to workforce safety for the thousands of colleagues who help to maintain and operate Britain’s railway.

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