Ottawa orders railways to address rest/work rules

Canadian railway companies have been ordered to update an industry document that regulates work hours, rest periods and fatigue management practices for railway employees.

The order’s financial impact on railway operations is not yet known, but it could result in higher labour costs for railway operators and higher maximum revenue entitlements (MREs) for Class 1 carriers that move western Canadian grain.

In late December, federal transport minister Marc Garneau instructed railway companies to revise a nine-page document entitled Work/Rest Rules for Railway Operating Employees, ensuring that it accurately reflects the latest science related to railway operator alertness and fatigue management.

“We now have a better understanding of the extent to which fatigue can affect human performance and ultimately compromise railway safety. We need to make changes now,” Garneau said.

Rules relating to the length of work shifts and minimum required rest periods are developed by railway companies in consultation with unions and other relevant associations.

Before implementation, the rules are reviewed and approved by the minister of transport.

Canadian railway companies have been asked to submit updated regulations by May 19. Ministerial approval is expected by the end of June 2019.

Among other things, the rules are expected to address:

  • the length of work periods
  • the use of split shifts
  • minimum required rest periods between duty
  • cumulative time on duty
  • advance notice of work schedules
  • fatigue management plans

Last year, Transport Canada issued a document that identified fatigue as a “pervasive” risk in the transportation sector “where 24/7 operations 365 days a year are the norm and workers are subject to shift work, disruptive schedules and long hours of work.”

The agency also said current work/rest rules that are applicable only to safety-critical employees such as locomotive engineers and conductors may need to be expanded to other “non-safety critical” positions.

In 2016, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) cited sleep-related fatigue as a contributing factor in 23 TSB railway investigations conducted between 1994 and 2016, which was roughly 20 percent of the railway-related investigations conducted during that period.

Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway declined to comment on how the amended work/rest rules might impact staffing levels and labour costs.

CP spokesperson Salem Woodrow said her company plans to work with all stakeholders to enhance rail safety.

Victoria Savoy, communications manager at the Railway Association of Canada (RAC), said safety is the top priority for the railways.

“RAC and its members believe that fatigue is a matter requiring empirical evidence and a scientific approach in order to identify and deliver effective solutions to address it in the workplace.”

Current research suggests that employees, on average, require 7.5 to eight hours of sleep per 24-hour period to sustain performance and that work shifts should be no longer than 12 hours because workplace errors double after 10 hours on duty.

In addition, two days off in seven days are required to counteract the impact of cumulative fatigue.

Transport Canada said last year that current work/rest rules allow railway operating employees to work up to 18 hours daily with no weekly or monthly cumulative limits.

The ability of railway employees to obtain adequate rest is undermined by the complexity and unpredictability of scheduling practices in the rail industry, it added.

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