RTBU, ARA argue over train driver shift limits
The Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) and the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) are at loggerheads over train driver shift limits.
By Jennifer Perry
As part of the move towards Australia’s first National Rail Safety Regulator (NRSR), the National Transport Commission (NTC) has proposed to nationally harmonise rail safety regulation by removing 12 hour shift limits for train drivers.
Under the new laws, each rail operator will need to be able to demonstrate to the NRSR that their fatigue management program satisfies the onerous requirements as stipulated in the two pages of regulations (known as regulation 29).
However, the RTBU says that Australian rail safety will “drift dangerously towards third world standards” if the NTC’s recommendations are approved by state and federal transport ministers.
The RTBU says its claims are backed by new research and a crucial recommendation of the McInerny Inquiry into the Waterfall train disaster.
According to the RTBU, an analysis of accident risk factors related to rail fatigue by researchers from Monash University and Sydney university describes removing shift limits as “potentially dangerous”, pointing out that “...there is a clear evidence for: i) increased fatigue for 12 hour shifts and ii) increased accident risks for long work shifts. Working beyond 12 hours is a known risk factor to fatigue/sleepiness and accident risk”.
The report also points out that the US Federal Railroad Administration, European Union, Transport Canada and the UK’s Office of Rail Regulation have all imposed work hour limits.
ARA chief executive Bryan Nye supports the NTC’s position on rail fatigue management and says the RTBU’s claims are wrong. He also points out that fatigue was not relevant to either the Glenbrook or Waterfall train accidents.
“The NTC proposal acknowledges that good fatigue management goes beyond hours ... the RTBU is taking a simplistic view of a complex issue,” Nye said.
“[Under the new laws] rail operators will need to demonstrate that their fatigue management program including driving hours, education, technologies and support systems meet the detailed requirements of the Regulation 29.”
The ARA says the Australian rail industry has worked closely with a number of internationally renowned fatigue management experts at the University of Central Queensland-based Centre for Sleep Research.
“Over-prescriptive regulation that limits work hours will stop industry innovation and restrict the industry from the benefits of its work with fatigue experts,” Nye said.
“The RTBU needs to open its eyes to the fact that the rail industry is well equipped to manage fatigue without shift limits.”
RTBU national secretary Bob Nanva called on the NTC to abandon what he says is an “ill conceived recommendation” and to prioritise rail safety.
“The NTC should never have put its name to these draft recommendations. They make a mockery of the whole concept of a safety regulator,” Nanva said.
“The RTBU would urge the NTC to step away from this negligent and reckless recommendation – while it still can salvage some credibility.”
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