Response to ONRSR Draft Fatigue Management Guideline

The RTBU provided the following response to the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator's Draft Fatigue Risk Management Guideline.



The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) appreciates the opportunity to provide a response to the draft Fatigue Management Guideline.

The RTBU has long maintained a strong stance on the need for clear, evidence-based, prescriptive regulations around fatigue management in the rail industry.  This stance was communicated in the Union’s submission to the 2019 ONRSR Fatigue Risk Management Review Consultation Paper.  The arguments that we put forward in submission remain pertinent and relevant to the Draft Guideline.  To that end, I provide a link to that paper for your reference.

The RTBU’s submission to the 2019 ONRSR Fatigue Risk Management Review Consultation Paper stated that:

Importantly, the development of an updated guidance note and/or future Code of Practice must not result in the removal and transfer of important fatigue management provisions from regulations into legally ambiguous materials.

We remain deeply concerned that ONRSR continues to push for a flexible model of fatigue management that is not supported by research and, in our view, undermines the objects of the National Rail Safety Law (NRSL).  Ultimately, this puts the lives of rail workers at risk.

The draft Guideline states that:

By using the principles [or rest and recovery] to manage the likelihood of fatigue, it is possible to design a schedule whereby a higher level of fatigue risk is tolerated for one or two principles, providing that the principles are balanced by of lower fatigue-risk options for other principles.

For example, if for operational reasons it is necessary to schedule a long work shift, even though it represents a high fatigue likelihood factor, the higher fatigue risk may be offset by ensuring that the schedule involves low risk factors on other characteristics .(p11)

The RTBU is not opposed to the concept of risk management per se, however we do have significant concerns about how it is represented in the draft Guideline and how it applies in practice in the Australian rail industry.  For example, the Guideline makes no reference to the useful and detailed information about bio-mathematical models of managing fatigue contained in ONRSR’s existing TSA 34 and TSA 35 Transport Safety Alerts.

The assessment of risk is a specialised task.  By taking a non-prescriptive approach, however, the draft Guideline pushes the burden risk management assessment onto operators.  Ultimately that means people who are untrained in this field, and/or have little exposure to the needs of the working environment, will be required to make subjective judgments about safe practices.  The RTBU notes that the flexible approach taken by the draft Guideline stands in contrast to the detailed and prescriptive approach to fatigue risk management taken by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

Furthermore, the concept that fatigue can be ‘offset’ is, frankly, nonsensical.  Fatigue is fatigue, and a tired rail worker does not become less tired because he or she is going to get an extra hour of sleep tomorrow.  Any application of a risk management approach in the Australian rail sector must therefore be done within the constraints of clear, prescribed minimum standards.

The RTBU contends that the strict standards regulating hours of work for traincrew in NSW and Queensland should be considered as industry best practice when it comes to fatigue management.  These standards do not involve compromises or offsets.  They do not ‘tolerate’ higher levels of fatigue.  What’s more, these standards came about as a result of high-level commissions of inquiry into the tragic rail disasters at Glenbrook and Waterfall.  The lessons of these tragedies should not be forgotten.

The fallacy of fatigue offsets sits at the heart of this draft Guideline.  The RTBU therefore believes that the Draft Guideline should scrapped and rewritten.

We urge you to start again and to prepare a new Guideline for consultation that specifies clear advice for all rail safety workers, including:

  • Minimum time between shifts;
  • Maximum shift duration, ranging between 9-12 hours depending on the occupation;
  • Maximum number of shifts and hours which can be worked over any 14-day period; and
  • Minimum length of breaks between shifts.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Diamond