(Canadian OH&S News) — A rail safety inspector with Transport Canada (TC) recently sent a notice and order to Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CP), citing worker fatigue as a significant safety risk on the rail lines and demanding that the company change freight-train lineups and fatigue-management practices on certain British Columbia runs.
In a Jan. 14 letter to Keith Shearer, CP’s general manager of operating standards and regulatory affairs, operations inspector Todd Horie wrote that CP train crews were required to do the following: report for duty at away-from-home terminals’ rest facilities before their shifts began, forcing them to allow time for transit to the terminals; follow revised orders after cancellations without sufficient rest between service times; and anticipate train calls with inaccurate train lineups, including train omissions. As a result, workers were getting deprived of rest and sleep necessary to perform at peak ability, Horie charged.
“Transport Canada discovered that CP Rail was not in compliance with the Work/Rest Rules for Railway Operating Employees related to extended-service-run train crews,” TC senior media-relations advisor Natasha Gauthier told COHSN. “These issues were uncovered within three CP Rail locations within British Columbia.”
Horie’s letter identified the B.C. locations as Kamloops, Port Coquitlam and Roberts Bank. It also included orders to include transit time to and from rest facilities at away-from-home terminals in crews’ on-duty hours, to allow extended-service-run crews to schedule up to eight hours of undisturbed rest after cancellations and to improve the accuracy of train lineups so that employees would know when their next shifts would begin.
“Transport Canada takes the issue of fatigue seriously and recognizes that human factors can affect safe railway operations,” said Gauthier, “and will not hesitate to take action as required to ensure the safety of Canada’s rail network.”
Although CP did not respond to COHSN’s request for an interview before press time, a former employee who asked to remain anonymous said that fatigue had been a serious issue with the railway for a long time.
“If they ever open a can of worms and have a third party come in and thoroughly look at it, the public would go bonkers,” the source said. “This isn’t a novelty that’s just in one location. This is right across the country.”
The former CP worker added that many employees rarely knew when they were going to be at work. “You go to sleep, you get up, and then you’re not going to work for another 10 hours, and by then, you get tired. You’re ready to go to sleep, but you’ve got to go to work.”
Douglas Finnson — president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents CP employees — said that he and the union had been fighting fatigue in the rail industry for decades. “It has been one of the reasons for the last two national strikes,” said Finnson.
He added that the Teamsters had set up an effective fatigue-management system for rail workers in Calgary in the 1990s. “It’s still running in Calgary to this day, although CP was able to get rid of it for half the employees. So half the employees in Calgary at CP have a fatigue-management plan, half don’t,” explained Finnson. “We tried to roll it out a little bit in the early 2000s, didn’t get much success because there didn’t seem to be a lot of political will from some of our union officers.”
Finnson said he believed TC’s current actions against worker fatigue would never have happened under the Stephen Harper government. “Not a chance,” he said. “Somebody inside would have killed it dead. That poor safety officer would not have been able to do his job.
“We have been pursuing with the government,” continued Finnson, “that these railway safety officers really need the support of their bosses. They really need to know that they’re going to be able to do what they’re there for, is to initiate safety measures, and when they find something, to do something about it.”
The ex-CP employee also noted that TC had been aware of the fatigue problem all along, but had done nothing about it until the recent change in government. “This order is the first time that Transport Canada’s acknowledged the problem, and their hands are kind of tied politically sometimes,” he said. “I just think that times are changing a bit.
“At the end of the day, if it’s going to mean a safer railroad for the employees and everything, why wouldn’t the companies take that route?” he added, referring to fatigue prevention. “There’s only one reason, and that’s bottom line.”