Metro News Release

For immediate release: December 3, 2012

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In fight against fatigue, Metro finds need for comprehensive approach

What's the best way to fight fatigue? That's the focus of ongoing scientific research involving Metro employees as the Authority seeks to further enhance safety.

This Thursday the Metro Board Safety and Security Committee will receive an update on the research findings to date, including a key finding that recommends a methodical, comprehensive approach to the issue rather than solely considering the number of hours an employee works.

Metro first began addressing the issue of fatigue management in 2011, starting with a joint study with the Tri-State Oversight Committee. More recently, a study of Metrobus operator shifts, conducted over a 28-day period in July, found that the majority of employee shifts were between 8 and 11 3/4 hours and that only 0.4 percent of bus operators' work hours resulted in fatigue that exceeds the criterion established by Federal Railroad Administration’s research model. Only eight percent of the shifts were scheduled for more than 12 hours, and less than one percent of shifts were greater than 16 hours.

"While we need to avoid schedules that call for excessive hours, it’s equally important to modify work patterns through a combination of education, training, and lifestyle choices to ensure employees can avoid fatigue," said Metro Board Safety Committee Chair Mort Downey. "We have to dig deeper so that employees are educated about the importance of sleep habits and personal wellness, so they understand how their choices off the job relate to fatigue."

Transit systems schedule employees to support two rush-hour periods that bookend a traditional office work day, often with rest breaks built in. Scheduling is also complicated on a system that is working aggressively to overcome a backlog of safety and maintenance projects to bring the system into a "steady state" of repair. Unlike other modes of transportation such as railroads and airlines, transit agencies are not governed by a uniform standard restricting hours of service for employees. The work undertaken by Metro over the past year is intended to place the Authority as a leader among transit properties nationwide. Metro's rail and bus operating departments are already taking steps to modify shifts that contain excessive hours or fatigue-inducing patterns, as well as revising training programs and developing employee awareness programs that emphasize good sleep schedules.

"Fatigue management is a complex issue, which is why this process is based in good science and requires a multifaceted approach that recognizes employees are responsible to be well rested and ready for work," said Metro General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles. "We are already modifying our training and mitigating schedules while we prepare an education program for employees with common sense tips about fighting fatigue and a wellness program to encourage good lifestyle choices."

The report from the fatigue management expert who conducted the research recommends that Metro consider several factors in developing a fatigue management program, including the shift time of day, employee sleep habits, and general wellness factors that contribute to readiness for duty. The research has shown that actual hours worked is not the sole factor affecting employee fatigue. Additional factors that must be considered in a fatigue management program include lifestyle changes, the time of day that an employee works, awareness of the effects of fatigue on one’s body, and modifications to working environments that promote and provide the opportunity for rest.

Metro is working to mitigate fatigue by establishing and maintaining a Fatigue Risk Management System that incorporates the following principles:

  • Providing working conditions that support the prevention and mitigation of fatigue, undergirded by appropriate education and training;
  • Encouraging employees and contractors to take advantage of opportunities for sleep, and promote wellness as part of part of WMATA’s safety culture. WMATA managers and supervisors will model appropriate work/sleep behaviors in the interest of a positive safety culture;
  • Limiting the numbers of hours worked based on scientific knowledge regarding the effects of sleep loss and normal body clock (“circadian”) phases;
  • Continuing to develop a medical fitness-for-duty program that includes protocols for identification and management of sleep disorders among safety-sensitive employees;
  • Making adjustments periodically based upon review of data defined by program metrics and safety results, as evidenced by accident rates and investigatory findings for accidents and precursor events; and
  • Improving existing Fatigue Awareness campaigns.

Subsequent research will collect data from a larger pool of employees, using notebooks to log sleep patterns over a two-week period.

View Board Committee presentation

News release issued at 1:58 pm, December 3, 2012.

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