Tuesday, January 26, 2016

CP Rail dinged for worker fatigue

A student flagged this article for me about CP Rail getting dinged by federal safety regulators for work systems that result in worker fatigue. Basically scheduling issues means workers often can’t predict their work schedule (and thus adjust their sleeping scheduling) so often arrive at work fatigued. This creates imminent danger, says the Transport Canada Report.

As Jason Foster and I note in our forthcoming OHS textbook, fatigue is a legitimate health and safety concern because workers who are experiencing fatigue are more likely to be involved in workplace incidents. Research has shown that fatigue can impair judgment in a manner similar to alcohol. WorkSafeBC reports the following effects: 
  • 17 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.05 (legal limit in B.C. and Alberta) 
  • 21 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.08 (legal limit in Canada) 
  • 24-25 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.10
Most cases of fatigue are resolved through adequate sleep. The average person requires 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep a night (remember, this is an average – some require more, some less). While an employer cannot control how well a worker sleeps, they can adjust the workplace to militate against fatigue.

Shift scheduling is one of the most important administrative controls of fatigue: employers can ensure shifts are not too long and too close together as well as avoiding dramatic shift rotations. Employers can also ensure workplace temperatures are not too high, work is interesting and engaging without being too strenuous, and provide adequate opportunities for resting, eating, and sleeping (if necessary).

In the wake of this unprecedented regulatory action, CP has agreed to review shift scheduling but basically blames the workers and the union for it.
In a follow-up statement Monday, CP spokesman Martin Cej said, "Crews are not on call 24/7. Crews have significant and often unutilized opportunities to schedule rest. 
"CP has been taking steps to ensure crew members take more rest, but union collective agreements have been a barrier to change."
This explanation sits uneasily with the working conditions reported by workers:
He said a routine scenario could see him driving a train from his home community to another location between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. but then having to wait 12 to 24 hours not knowing when he'll be assigned to drive a train back home.

"You get into your away- from-home terminal, say, at 6 a.m. in the morning. Then you go to bed, and you sleep until two o'clock in the afternoon. You get up. You're wondering when you're going to go back to work, And you look on your screen, and it's showing you not out of your away-from-home terminal now until midnight!" he said. 
That means he'll be awake for 10 hours before reporting for his next eight-hour shift, leaving him tired and, at times, nodding off at the train controls. 
"You're fatigued," he said. "You're done. Your brain is mush. You want to go to sleep. You're fighting constantly with your body. Your body is telling you one thing, but you know that on the other hand, you've got to get that train home … 150 miles of track."
One of the most interesting aspects of the CBC story is actually the correction printed at the bottom:
An earlier version of this story said CP was ordered to improve freight train scheduling. In fact, the Transport Canada order requires improvements to train line-ups, which allow employees to estimate when they'll be called to drive a train.
What this shows us is that, despite the imminent danger posed by fatigued crews, the government is only prepared to tell the employer to better communicate when the workers will work (so the workers can adjust their sleep scheduled). The government isn’t prepared to tell the employer to do a better job of scheduling trains to avoid lay overs that are often 20-hours.

This basically dumps the responsibility for being alert back on crews. In the example above, the worker would have be able to sleep (or otherwise rest) for 14- or 16-hours at a crew rest facility. That is better than the current situation (where the worker wouldn't know when to sleep longer), but it only addresses the proximate cause of fatigue (bad communication), not the root cause (bad scheduling).

-- Bob Barnetson

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