Being tired was never really considered a cause of safety incidents – at best its role was underestimated. That was the view back in 2015 when RailStaff interviewed Network Rail’s lead on fatigue at a time when the organisation was right in the middle of a review into the issue.
The statistics would challenge that perception as well. Since 1988, there have been 14 incidents relating to fatigue which have resulted in a total of 52 fatalities and 612 people injured.
Over the next year, Network Rail is changing how fatigue is managed – the implications of which will be felt throughout the entire industry.
The current fatigue standard is being revised to include all Network Rail and contractor staff working on the railway, not just those in safety critical roles. Network Rail estimates that the revised standard (NR/L2/OHS/003) will affect more than 150,000 people around the industry.
The revised standard includes ‘trigger points’ at which employees must agree Fatigue Management Plans with their line managers to address the risk. While the standard doesn’t set strict limits on working hours, the intention is to make sure fatigue is being considered at all times.
Network Rail plans to introduce the standard in stages between October 2018 and December 2019, ahead of a compliance date of October 2022.
A Network Rail spokesperson said: “Fatigue can have a hugely detrimental effect on workers’ mental and physical health, and it is vital that people working in the rail and wider construction industry are able to achieve a healthy work/life balance.”
Fatigue Management Plan
The revised standard under the Fatigue Improvement Programme includes a trigger point when staff are working 60-hour weeks. When this occurs, a Fatigue Management Plan will have to be agreed between the line manager and their team. Fatigue Management Plans will come in two different types and Network Rail has provided the following descriptions:
- A group plan is agreed where a team’s working hours (including commute) exceed 12 hours a day. So in this instance the line manager would sit down with his/her team and agree what can be done to help reduce fatigue. This could be something as simple as agreeing all the teams’ break times in advance, or arranging a minibus to share journeys to/from work and reduce driving hours.
- An individual plan is triggered when an individual’s working day exceeds 14 hours. This will be a plan more tailored to an individual’s needs. An individual plan can be discussed even where a group plan is in place, for example where one member of a team has a much longer commute than their colleagues.
Contractor fatigue management
While line managers can be trained to be more alert to fatigue, the signs aren’t always clear. Businesses across the sector are looking for ways to better understand when their staff are fatigued – in some cases utilising technology.
An investigation by Morgan Sindall found that 45 out of 65 incidents recorded between January and June 2017 on the Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) had occurred at night. Concerned that fatigue could be behind the figures, the company began a pilot programme using smart wristbands. It monitored sleep data for 60 days and displayed each worker’s fatigue risk as a score between one and 100, where 100 showed maximum alertness.
The experiment revealed that the average score for day staff was 90 and for night staff it was 80, with around 36 per cent of night workers clocking a score of 70 or below during their shift. To provide some context, the impairment to reaction times with an alertness score of 70 is the equivalent to someone driving who is above the legal alcohol limit.
In an article for IOSH earlier this year, Morgan Sindall’s SHE advisor, Judith Devlin, said: “We don’t allow people to work when they are under the influence of alcohol, so why would we do so when they are so tired that they are just as incapable?”
Morgan Sindall said it aims to have no safety critical resource working in a state of fatigue by the end of 2018. It has been able to introduce practical interventions using the results collected by the Readibands. Those averaging just a few hours sleep a night can be offered advice and support and thresholds have been introduced where staff must stop work if they become fatigued.
One of the most useful features of this technology is its ability to predict at the start of a shift whether a particular worker is likely to become fatigued. The availability of the data means staff are more accountable for their own wellbeing and how they manage their fatigue, but it also gives them clear evidence to show to line managers.
“I think it gives them almost a confidence that they’re not just tired, they’re fatigued,” said Judith.
Fatigue is something that also affects staff after they’ve left site.
Driving and fatigue was a recurring theme at the Track Safety Alliance’s conference in October.
Staff are told to look out for the symptoms of fatigue, which can include having difficulty concentrating, repeated yawning, heavy eyelids, eye rolling, head droops, restlessness and boredom.
According to advice issued by Network Rail to its staff, you must stop at a safe place long before find you begin fighting off sleep. In situations where extended rest isn’t possible, staff are advised to drink two cups of coffee, or an energy drink, and then take a 15-20 minute nap.
Measures to stave off fatigue include planning for regular breaks, setting the drivers seat in a comfortable upright position, opening a window, keeping well hydrated and eating light healthy snacks.
Most staff don’t need reminding that they have a personal responsibility for their safety and the safety of those around them. With fatigue, staff have a responsibility to better understand their bodies and the demands they put on them.
Simple things could help all of us get a better night’s sleep and put an end to the nightmare of fatigue-related incidents.