BLE plan would reduce fatigue, improve safety

Leaders of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers presented a three-pronged fatigue countermeasures plan to the railroad industry and government regulators on September 5 at a meeting in Washington, D.C.

The BLE approach to help eliminate fatigue would improve safety in the industry while focusing on three main areas - education, information and empowerment. The plan would give rail operating employees empowerment to call off work if they are fatigued - after completing a set amount of work each month.

Making the presentation on behalf of the BLE were International President Don M. Hahs, Washington State Legislative Board Chairman Dr. Mark Ricci, and Regulatory Research Coordinator Bob Harvey.

"We've been studying the issue of fatigue for the last 10 years and have enough information to realize we have a problem," President Hahs said in his remarks. "Today we offer the industry a solution, but not the only solution, to this issue."

All Class 1 railroads were present or represented by the Association of American Railroads, while representatives of the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were also in attendance. Several other rail labor unions who work under the Hours of Service Act also attended the presentation.

The best way to combat fatigue, the BLE said, is a combination of agreements obtained in the collective bargaining arena and Federal rules obtained in the regulatory arena.

In the absence of a negotiated agreement, the BLE presented a proposal that the FRA issue a "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" and at the same time enter into a negotiated rulemaking process to bring the following rule into federal regulation:

"No railroad employee shall operate railroad equipment, and a Railroad shall not require or permit an employee to operate railroad equipment, while the employee's ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the railroad equipment.

"However, in a case of grave emergency where the hazard to rail operations would be increased by compliance with this section, the railroad employee may continue to operate the equipment to the nearest place at which that hazard is removed.

"For the purpose of this regulation, an employee having worked a minimum of 20 starts or 2,600 miles of Hours of Service duty in the previous thirty days, or five starts (equivalent to 650 miles) in the previous 7 days and requesting relief for fatigue will have met the definition of fatigue. A 'start' is defined as any work period that requires a corresponding rest period as prescribed by 49 CFR Ch.II Part 228 Hours of Service of Railroad Employees."

Under this program, an employee would have the right to mark off after meeting certain criteria. However, if any carrier obtains a more effective fatigue program through negotiations with the BLE, then that carrier would be exempt from the proposed rulemaking.

The BLE presentation touched upon many of the same points raised by President Hahs during his testimony before the U.S. Senate's Surface Transportation Subcommittee on July 10. The BLE President noted that 28 BLE members have been killed in the line of duty since 1996, many of them in fatigue-related accidents.

The parties present were not in total agreement with the BLE presentation. However, all did agree that further dialogue is necessary to help solve this critical safety issue.


© 2002 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers