Fighting Fatigue: Is the Rail Industry "Victorian"?

The UK rail industry has led the charge for improving fatigue management and other worker safety issues - yet critics still call its approaches “Victorian.” When even the best are behind the times, a second look is in order. What are industries doing to bring this important facet of workplace safety into the twenty-first century - and where can they do more?

A regulation has been passed which requires rail companies to limit shifts to 12 hours or less and give each worker a 12-hour rest between shifts. In compliance with this rule, companies monitor assigned shifts and time off and submit the data to Network Rail. These audits ensure that rail workers can be alert for each shift and that in general fatigue is being managed around the supply network.

This is a good start, but it’s still the bare minimum needed to protect workers and passengers. Research currently underway across the industry seeks to expand efforts to combat fatigue using new technology, updated practices, and education.

Although the updates are still in progress, the industry’s highly visible “leadership” position means they could have sweeping influence. Far from being ignorant of the consequences of an overly-tired workforce, the rail business - speaking broadly - is investing significant resources to build a better fatigue-management infrastructure.

As new policies are developed and implemented, other sectors such as construction will have the opportunity to learn from railways’ innovations. While outside critics may not have the full inside story, they see the potential for change as one-size-fits-all regulations grow into holistic approaches that allow workers and companies to work toward the safest and most effective solution.

Modernisation takes time. Although sweeping changes in the railway industry may not be immediately evident, other fields have even further to go and should see the rail industry as an example of what their next steps should be.

Darrell Atkins from Mane Contract Services, a leading recruiter in the Rail and Infrastructure sector, commented “The key to success lies in technology. We have a specific technological solution that we deploy into clients which goes beyond simple monitoring. The vast majority of our clients have embraced this and are grateful that their supply chain is working with them, but it is not surprising that there are pockets of resistance to any change. This is why partnership working throughout the supply chain is important. Everyone needs to evolve, and we are proud to be at the forefront”