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Fatigue management systems for train crews

Sleep-related fatigue in operating crew can impair the safe operation of freight trains.

 Update – What has been done

  • In November 2016, Board Member Faye Ackermans discussed key rail safety issues identified on the Watchlist at the National Railway Day Conference in Ottawa.
  • Senior TSB officials participated in various meetings with stakeholders such as the Railway Association of Canada and the Canadian Association of Railway Suppliers to initiate discussions around pressing safety issues.
  • In January 2017, the Board and senior TSB officials met with Canadian Pacific Railway to discuss the issue of fatigue management for freight train crews.
  • In March 2017, a TSB Senior Human Factors Investigator delivered a presentation on this new Watchlist issue at the International Conference on Managing Fatigue hosted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) in San Diego, California. The presentation addressed the contribution of shift scheduling practices to fatigue amongst railway operating employees.

Why this matters

Fatigue is pervasive in today’s society, especially in the transportation industry. Most people need between seven and eight hours of continuous sleep every night to feel well-rested, but 30% of Canadians report getting fewer than six hours’ sleep per night, and 60% report feeling tired “most of the time.”Footnote 1

A 2012 poll conducted by the U.S. National Sleep Foundation, a leading sleep health organization, found that many transportation workers reported not getting enough sleep because of their work schedulesFootnote 2 (that is, they might work too many hours at a stretch, or their work hours, which are irregular, coincide with normal sleep times).

Due to the pervasiveness of fatigue in transportation and the negative effect it has on human performance, the role of fatigue is considered in most investigations by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB).

Since 1994, sleep-related fatigue has been identified as a contributing factor or as a risk in 23 TSB railway investigations—and 19Footnote 3 of them involved operating crew members on freight trains.

These 19 investigations represent about 20% of the 94 rail investigations conducted since 1994 in which a human factors aspect of freight train crew activities was a primary cause.

Since 1995, a number of working groups have studied the issue of fatigue but limited action was implemented. In 2015, the Railway Safety Management System Regulations came into force requiring that safety management systems include a “process with respect to scheduling” for the work of certain employeesFootnote 4 and that the process apply the principles of fatigue science.

Even though the railway industry and Transport Canada have known sleep-related fatigue to be a problem for over 20 years, the initiatives taken to date have been inadequate to fully address the issue. As a result, fatigue continues to pose a risk to the safe operation of trains, particularly freight trains, which move 70% of the country's surface goods, including dangerous goods.

 Action required

This issue will remain on the Watchlist until

  • Transport Canada completes its review of railway fatigue management systems; and
  • Transport Canada and the railways implement further actions to effectively mitigate the risk of fatigue for operating crew members on freight trains.

 Related information

 Previous Watchlists