Safety, Standards & Regulation

RTBU criticises fatigue management guidelines

The Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) is pushing back against a draft fatigue management guideline that it argues undermines regulated maximum shift hours, which apply in Queensland and NSW.

The draft Fatigue Risk Management Guideline, published by the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, outlines the steps that rail transport operators should undertake to manage fatigue-related risks of rail safety workers.

The draft suggests that high fatigue risks may be offset through other factors. The draft gives the example of work that must be done at night which increases the risk of fatigue because at these times alertness is reduced and it is not possible to obtain night sleep, which is most efficient for recovery. These factors could be offset by shortening the total length of night shifts, minimising consecutive shifts, or implementing a reset break between sequences of night work to allow time for recovery.

RTBU secretary Mark Diamond wrote in a submission to the guideline that this approach of “offsets” would undercut safety.

“By taking a non-prescriptive approach, the draft guideline pushes the burden risk management assessment onto operators. Ultimately that means people who are untrained in this field, and/or have little exposure to the needs of the working environment, will be required to make subjective judgments about safe practices.”

Under the Rail Safety National Law, transport operators are required to, so far as reasonably practicable, ensure that rail safety workers do not carry out rail safety work while impaired by fatigue or if they may become so impaired. To meet this requirement, transport operators must have a safety management system that includes a fatigue risk management plan.

In NSW and Queensland, in addition to these requirements there are prescribed hours of work for train drivers. In both states, drivers are largely limited to nine hours in one-person operation and 12 hours in two-person operation where the second driver is a qualified train driver.

ONRSR chief executive and National Rail Safety Regulator Sue McCarrey said that safety risks were not affected by more proscriptive regulation.

“ONRSR’s 2018 review of the fatigue risk management arrangements under the RSNL found no conclusive evidence to demonstrate that jurisdictions operating under a full risk-based framework for all rail safety workers pose any greater rail safety risk than jurisdictions which have prescribed hours for train drivers,” she said.

McCarrey said that the draft guideline was developed with expert input.

“As part of the fatigue risk management review, ONRSR engaged two fatigue experts to develop principles of rest and recovery which address key factors associated with the scheduling of work. An essential element of the fatigue risk management process is how the principles interact. If work schedules have an elevated fatigue likelihood, this can be managed via offsetting principles to manage the risk to safety or by introducing other controls to reduce rail safety risks.”

In a recent review of national rail safety legislation the Productivity Commission highlighted fatigue management as one area where efficiencies could be improved.

Diamond wrote that the national standard should follow the regulations in Queensland and NSW.

“Any application of a risk management approach in the Australian rail sector must be done within the constraints of clear, prescribed minimum standards. The RTBU contends that the strict standards regulating hours of work for traincrew in NSW and Queensland should be considered as industry best practice when it comes to fatigue management.”

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