Website Aims to Reduce Fatigue Among Railroaders
October 05, 2012
A railroader's schedule can be unpredictable, with less than two hours' notice of a work shift that might take him or her on the rails from Boston to Baltimore, traversing 415 miles in the middle of the night. With time at home between runs being short, a choice may need to be made between getting adequate sleep and spending time with family and friends. However, when sleep takes a back seat for a railroader, the on-the-job consequences can be fatal.
"Chronic sleep deprivation will have an impact on your brain behavior and your ability to process information," said Dr. Stephen Popkin, director of the Center for Safety Management Systems at Volpe, The National Transportation Systems Center. "We've had some horrible train crashes where both crews were asleep and the trains collided and resulted in deaths."
A new interactive, multimedia website aims to reduce on-the-job fatigue by educating railroad employees about the importance of healthy sleep for individual well-being and safety, and helping them make informed decisions about sleep to improve workplace performance. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Railroaders' Guide to Healthy Sleep website features an anonymous Sleep Disorders Screening Tool, a downloadable sleep-wake diary, strategies for preventing sleep debt, and other tips and tools for improving the amount and quality of sleep that railroad workers receive.*
"It's all about sleep: getting enough sleep and good quality sleep," said Michael Coplen, FRA Research and Development senior evaluator and a former locomotive engineer. "Anything you can do to improve either one of those is going to improve your performance and alertness, and minimize your safety risks at work."
The Railroaders' Guide to Healthy Sleep includes videos, articles, and quizzes to help workers increase their understanding of the daily ups and downs in alertness. It also helps families understand what fatigue is and how it can impact their loved ones, and promotes a healthy work-life balance for railroad workers.
The website was developed by Volpe in collaboration with sleep health experts from the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine and educational media experts from the WGBH Educational Foundation. Volpe involved key stakeholders in the development of this site, including representatives from industry management and two major unions that represent railroad workersóboth of which are interested in promoting the website with their constituents, said Popkin.
The Railroaders' Guide to Healthy Sleep was designed with railroaders and their families in mind. In particular, the website targets freight engineers and conductors, who often work unpredictable hours and may need to sleep and eat at different times on different days, making it challenging to get proper sleep. The site also offers useful tools and strategies for passenger operators and freight crews that operate on regular schedules.
There are an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 train and engine crews, and the goal is to reach all of themóand their familiesówith this website, said Popkin.
This tool is being viewed as a potential model for other modes of transportation as well.
* Following the initial release of the Railroaders' Guide to Healthy Sleep, Volpe is working with the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine on enhancements to ensure the website's full accessibility for people with disabilities (Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act).