NTSB recognizes BLE fatigue countermeasures program

The National Transportation Safety Board has recognized the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers for its nationwide program to educate operating employees about the dangers of working while fatigued.

In the wake of a fatal collision between two Union Pacific freight trains near Delia, Kan., on July 2, 1997, an NTSB investigation revealed that train crew fatigue was a contributing factor in the disaster. In fact, it was determined that one of the locomotive engineers had been awake for 18 continuous hours at the time of the collision.

In its official accident summary, the NTSB issued Safety Recommendation R-99-60 directly to the BLE, which required the BLE to educate its members about fatigue in the workplace, including how to avoid it.

In response, the BLE established a three-part fatigue countermeasures program, which it has presented to its membership throughout the United States and Canada over the past three years.

"The Safety Board was pleased to learn that the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers actively supports the intent of this recommendation through a national program to educate its members about the effects of fatigue," NTSB Chairman Jim Hall wrote in a letter to BLE President Edward Dubroski in May.

The BLE's fatigue countermeasures program was developed by Don Bergman, Chairman of the BLE Arizona State Legislative Board. Bergman, who also administers the program, said it has been presented to more than 400 locomotive engineers and their spouses all across the U.S. and Canada.

"Approaching the fatigue problem in our industry with a program that would be accepted by the locomotive engineers was our secondary goal," Bergman said, "with our first goal defined as the elimination of fatigue related accidents.'"

The presentation is broken down into three parts. Part I covers fatigue related physiological aspects of human beings (circadian rhythms, sleep disorders, effects of fatigue, etc.). Part II blends the above scientific aspects of fatigue with the practical application of each craft (what to expect and how to counter fatigue). Part III discusses the home life of operating crew members, and explains how to adapt the fatigue countermeasures program to their everyday lives.

Bergman said the program has been so successful that many locomotive engineers and their spouses have attended it more than once.

"The acceptance of the program and information has been extraordinary," Bergman said. "Why? We relate to them, not as a scientist to a class, but as an engineer to an engineer. To relate to an individual, in his or her own setting, with information about fatigue and how it effects that individual will have an enormous effect on whether or not that individual walks away with a 'bunch of scientific junk' or thought provoking, usable information.

"We warn them that they may experience the effects of fatigue in various ways, such as memory loss, wrecked decision making, poor reaction time, deteriorating physical coordination, incorrect information processing, irritability, short temper and tunnel vision.

"All these things are related to an activity on the locomotive. For example: Discussion on memory loss will talk about an engineer realizing he has a 'slow order' ahead that he will soon be approaching. Fatigue will affect his memory to the extent that he will pull his orders from behind his brake valve and read them, only to go through the same process several minutes later because he can't remember what he just read.

"We reassure our members that they are not losing it - they are merely suffering the effects of fatigue. How to control this memory loss we suggest that the engineer write on the inside of the windshield (with washable marker) the restriction he is approaching the first time he reads it, and to communicate with another member of the crew that a slow order is approaching.

"Can a scientist relate to this and tell them that on a VCR tape? We don't believe so."

Hundreds of BLE members will be attending Brother Bergman's NTSB-approved fatigue countermeasures presentation this month at regional meetings in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Louisville, Ky., and Niagara Falls. There is still time to register and attend the presentation at the SWCM in September.


2000 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers