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News & Views from the RTBU NSW Locomotive Division

Fatigue management within RailCorp

Jun 17, 2013News

Fatigue management and its application is a major concern for all Loco drivers.

The Loco Division is becoming increasingly concerned that in RailCorp, rather than the onus being on the company to introduce best practice, responsibility instead lies heavily with drivers themselves.

One major area of concern is that it can appear that the company is more interested in looking as though it is taking action, rather than in introducing practical measures that actually work to ensure the safety of drivers.

The introduction of the FAID system is a good example. Drivers are still rostered in excess of a FAID score of 100 – and then merely asked if they are ok.

In fact, many members have reported that the FAID system actually restricts roster design that minimizes fatigue and instead the constant shift time alterations actually works to create more driver fatigue.  Some have even suggested that they are more fatigued now in their day to day working then prior to the FAID system being introduced.

Members have also reported they feel that as RailCorp is obviously responsible for the construction of schedules, it should and could play a better role in managing fatigue through better schedule and roster construction.

One suggestion raised by members is that schedules could provide for longer breaks during shifts, which could work to limit fatigue.

For example, on schedules that contain a lot stations working, drivers could be relieved on city circles for a 15min break from the cab. Additionally, schedules that contain 3-4hrs continuous driving with minimal turnaround times should be broken down to facilitate better fatigue management. The reality is that 3-6mins to change ends does nothing to limit fatigue.

Members have stated on many occasions that to truly assess and apply fatigue management practices, individual schedules need to be assessed based on their workload content, rather than shift start times.

Clearly some schedules can create higher levels of fatigue then others and these can occur at any starting time, not just the hours identified in the FAID Index. For example, continuous all stations working at any time of the day or night can cause fatigue through the ongoing repetitious nature of the tasks required.

Additionally, members have advised that the current practice of limiting drivers to their designated sectors of operation produces the same effect as there is very little variety to stimulate and focus the mind – it’s the same scenery, the same infrastructure, the same tasks at the same locations day after day.

RailCorp have in practice now minimised the amount of cross-sector working that occurs on weekends to the point of bare compliance with the current 2010 agreement and even if there is no track work affecting the area of cross sector running, RailCorp will still pin the drivers to their own sector for no apparent reason.

 

This has become more apparent in recent years. The Loco Division has seen a large increase in members commenting that they are bored with the same thing every day and that there is “very little to look forward to” now when coming to work.

They have stated that they look forward to weekends now to “actually go somewhere different” and appreciate the challenges of cross sector running and the variations in set type operations over these routes.

A sad reflection of this has recently occurred where a 25+ year driver suffered three operational incidents in two years and explained that he found the “mind numbingly boring repetition” of running the same sector day after day was a contributing factor to the incidents mentioned. He went on to state that he was glad to become a guard just to escape this repetition, despite the resulting wage losses.

A school of thought on this is that familiarity breeds contempt, and just because these issues are seldom raised in Level 5 investigations, the RTBU remains convinced that should the “climate of fear” be removed regarding fatigue, more instances would actually be reported.

All of these issues have been raised for many years at various forums with no apparent interest or concern from RailCorp.

All the while, the incidents continue to mount up.

The ‘big stick’ approach is now being liberally applied instead of serious consideration being given to understanding the underlying causational factors. As long as this approach and the absolute focus on ‘on time running’ and driver ‘footplate time’ continues, little will change regarding the fatigue issue widely felt among drivers.

If RailCorp are truly genuine in managing the fatigue associated with the drivers role, we need to see serious consideration given to all of these issues – and the Loco Division is working to ensure that happens.

Fatigue is too serious an issue to be taken lightly.

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