How Shift Scheduling Practices Contribute to Fatigue Amongst Freight Rail Operating Employees: Findings from Canadian Accident Investigations

Canada’s freight rail system moves 70% of the country's surface goods and almost half of all exports (RAC, 2016). These include dangerous goods. Anonymous survey of freight rail operating employees conducted by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC, 2014) revealed that many do not report getting enough sleep because of their work schedules, and that fatigue may be affecting their performance at work. Besides general impairments in attention and cognitive functioning, fatigue in railway operating employees slows reaction time to safety alarms and impairs conformance to train operating requirements. Shift scheduling practices can contribute to sleep-related fatigue by restricting sleep opportunities, requiring extended periods of wakefulness and by disrupting daily (circadian) rhythms. The primary goal of accident investigation is to identify causal and contributing factors so that similar occurrences can be prevented. A database search of Transportation Safety Board (TSB) rail investigation reports published in the 21-year period from 1995 to 2015 identified 18 that cited sleep-related fatigue of freight rail operating employees as a causal, contributing, or risk finding. This number represents about 20% of TSB rail investigations from the same period in which a human factors aspect of freight train activities was a primary cause. Exploration of accident themes suggests that management of fatigue and shift scheduling in the freight rail industry is a complex issue that is often not conducive to employee circadian rhythms and sleep requirements. It also suggests that current shift scheduling and fatigue management practices may be insufficient to mitigate the associated safety risk. Railway fatigue management systems that are based on the principles of modern sleep science are needed to improve scheduling practices and mitigate the ongoing safety risk.


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  • Accession Number: 01703294
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Apr 23 2019 3:06PM