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Rail News: Labor

Safety advisory could cost sleep-disorder suffering employees their job, UTU says


United Transportation Union officials oppose a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)-recommended safety advisory recently issued by the Federal Railroad Administration that could cause certain employees suffering from sleep disorders to be removed from duty.

Directed at employees who dispatch or operate trains, or inspect and maintain signal systems, the advisory stems from a November 2001 Illinois Central Railroad train collision near Clarkston, Mich., that resulted in two fatalities. The NTSB determined the probable cause was fatigue caused by the engineer's and conductor's sleep apnea conditions.

"Employees should not be removed from service simply because they suffer from a medical condition that can be successfully treated by a physician," said UTU International President Paul Thompson in a prepared statement. "Sleep disorders are not a crime."

NTSB recommended the FRA order certain employees who suffer from "performance-impairing" medical conditions to be removed from duty.

"A far more pressing fatigue problem is carriers working their train and engine-service crews to the point of exhaustion, day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year," said Thompson.

The advisory recommends that railroads:
• establish training and educational programs to inform employees of potential performance impairment as a result of fatigue, sleep loss, sleep deprivation, inadequate sleep quality and working odd hours;
• ensure that employees’ medical examinations include assessment and screening for possible sleep disorders and other associated medical conditions;
• develop and implement rules encouraging employees in safety-sensitive positions to voluntarily report any sleep disorder that could impair their performance; and
• institute policies that prohibit an employee from performing any safety-sensitive duties until their medical condition responds to treatment.

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More News from 9/24/2004