FRA requiring railroads to submit worker fatigue management plans

A worker sitting down with his hands behind his head. In front of him is a hard hat.

The Federal Railroad Administration is now requiring the Class I railroads, Amtrak and commuter railroads to include fatigue risk management plans as part of their larger system safety and risk reduction programs.

The rule was published Monday in the Federal Register. The Federal Railroad Administration will review the plans annually, per the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, and it will also conduct periodic audits. 

FRA said this rule is one of several ongoing initiatives to address the complex operational, environmental and cultural issues that contribute to fatigue. 

“FRA recognizes that fatigue of railroad employees is a long-standing concern and challenge in the railroad industry. Accordingly, this rule is just one of several ongoing FRA efforts designed to address the adverse impacts and underlying causes of fatigue in the railroad industry,” said Monday’s notice in the Federal Register.

FRA wants the railroads to talk to the unions prior to submitting the fatigue risk management plans to the agency. 

“FRA is aware that consultation on some [risk reduction program] plans has not met the spirit of this statutory requirement. The intent of consultation is to engage with directly affected employees at all stages of plan development and program implementation,” Monday’s notice said. “Ideally, railroads will look to their directly affected employees as partners throughout the process rather than as reviewers of a finished product. FRA expects consultation on [fatigue risk management] plans will genuinely involve good faith and best efforts. FRA will separately provide further guidance on its expectations of the consultation process.”

Should a consensus not be reached among the various parties, the parties may file a statement to FRA explaining their views on the plan, and FRA will review the comments during the agency’s approval process. 

But FRA declined to outline specific mitigation strategies for the railroads to follow, although the agency provided various options suggested by FRA’s rail safety advisory committee. The railroads should tailor their individual plans to that railroad’s needs and operations, according to FRA.

“Many commenters offered specific strategies for compliance with the rule that they believed should be required components of [a fatigue risk management plan], including medical recommendations, alterations to current scheduling practices, topics upon which to train and many other possible fatigue mitigations. These comments are valuable and demonstrate the breadth of potential ways for railroads to comply,” Monday’s notice said.

“However, mandating any one of these strategies as a requirement of the final rule would contradict [the Rail Safety Improvement Act’s] directive that [fatigue risk management plans] be individually tailored to a railroad’s unique operating circumstances and may not effectively reduce the fatigue of the railroad’s employees or reduce the probability of fatigue-related accidents and incidents. Therefore, FRA declines to adopt the suggested strategies as a requirement of the final rule.”

FRA’s new rule comes as Democratic leaders with the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials urged FRA in April to take up worker fatigue.

The labor group Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO welcomed the new rule.

“This rule provides a solid framework for continued engagement between labor unions and the FRA to ensure that employers are providing working conditions that keep workers and the public safe,” said TTD President Greg Regan in a statement. He added that freight railroaders are subject to unpredictable schedules and are continuously on call, and he and other union officials have criticized the attendance policies of Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) and BNSF (NYSE: BRK.B) because they say the policies shortchange rest time. 

Regan also praised FRA’s efforts to conduct a study on fatigue among conductors and engineers, saying, “We are confident the final results of this study will show that fatigue is linked to worsening workplace conditions for these workers.”

Subscribe to FreightWaves’ e-newsletters and get the latest insights on freight right in your inbox.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Source: freightwaves - FRA requiring railroads to submit worker fatigue management plans
Editor: Joanna Marsh