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RTBU, ARA argue over train driver shift limits

by Rail Express last modified May 02, 2012 02:43 PM
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The Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) and the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) are at loggerheads over train driver shift limits.

RTBU, ARA argue over train driver shift limits

Courtesy RailGallery

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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RTBU/ARA Argue over train driver shifts

Posted by Anonymous User at May 02, 2012 06:46 PM
The story has a number of factual inaccuracies.The two pages of regulations (reg 29) are high level requirements which have very little detail.The ARA is on the record arguing for 16 hour shifts to bring train drivers into line with long distance road freight drivers.This is their real agenda.The arguments about world leading academic research is but one strand of the debate from academics who have close links with rail employers and who favour labour market deregulation.The international benchmark in rail and other modes of transport are hours of work limits within a fatgue risk management framework.

No limits on shift lengths

Posted by Anonymous User at May 03, 2012 05:36 AM
As a long distance train driver I am appalled at the attitude of Brian Nye, the ARA & the NTC that Train Drivers should be driving up to 16 hour shifts. It's tantamount to arrogance to think that they could force this onto us without any consultation or input from we who would be affected. It's a totally retrograde step in regards to safety & conditions & the affect it will have on health & family life. It certainly is about driving conditions down to the lowest common denominator. They want to remove the calendar from our lives & in so much we will spend 2/3 of any 24 hrs at work & we won't know what day of the week it is. Furthermore I find it contemptible that he thinks he knows whats in our best interests & what we are capable of. It's a step back 100 years.

16 hours!

Posted by Anonymous User at May 03, 2012 09:41 AM
what a load s#@t. Fatigue mangment is garbage aswell! how can they expect train drivers to do 16 hours!

Response to anonymous comments

Posted by Emma Woods at May 08, 2012 04:30 PM
At no stage has the ARA gone ‘on the record arguing for 16 hour shifts’. This is incorrect.

There seems to be false assumptions that extending shift limits will automatically and immediately result in longer train driver and rail safety worker rostered hours, this will not and cannot be the case.

The new National Rail Safety law, and in particular Regulation 29, addresses safety fatigue management in great detail and places a significant fatigue management responsibility on rail operators. These laws do not provide for an operator to willy-nilly change the hours a rail safety worker or train driver can be rostered. The power to approve or disapprove any suggested change will still sit with the Regulator, not the rail operator.
Further, rail operators cannot simply make changes to rostered hours. Each rail operator must first prove to the regulator that they meet the many strict requirements in Regulation 29.
Before the Regulator would approve changes to shift hours, an operator would have to justify that all identified risks were being adequately addressed and that safety was not being reduced.

Legislation and regulation aside, each rail organisation has a duty of care to provide a safe working environment for its employees. There is no moral or commercial justification for a rail operator to reduce the safety of its staff and workplace.
Specifically, if it were possible and safe to extend existing 12 hour shift limits, such a change if approved, would only be adopted incrementally on a case by case basis that would need to be approved first by the Regulator.

At the end of the day, it is not in anyone’s interest to reduce the levels of rail safety. The Regulator would simply not approve measures that degrade rail safety fatigue management. Nor would a rail operator introduce measures that would risk injury to its staff and impact operations.

The ARA shares a common interest in maintaining driver safety standards. At no time would we support or lobby for measures that we believed would be detrimental to rail safety, or place our most important resource, our train drivers, at risk.