FRA issues new report on fatigue

February 25, 2013

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.