Combating fatigue with multi-pronged strategy

The sleep wellness program is one of several strategies Omaha, NE-based Union Pacific Railroad is using to combat fatigue.

"From what we see, worker fatigue is very much related to the whole healthy lifestyle issue," says medical director Dennis Richling, MD. "From that standpoint, [controlling fatigue] carries far more than just some of the intuitive types of benefits you’d expect to see with it. We believe we will see a broader impact on the behavior of the work force, which will ultimately impact health dollar payout, worker productivity, and worker morale."

In addition to sleep wellness, the broad-based fatigue management campaign at Union Pacific includes:

Introduction of music and/or audio sources: Union Pacific is considering issuing headsets to train crews so they could listen to talking books, music, or taped courses, which would increase alertness, Richling says.

A napping policy: "Traditionally, crews are not allowed to sleep on the job, but there may be some circumstances where it could be justified," says Richling. The policy, if implemented, would allow power naps of 15 minutes or so.

Revised crew scheduling and composition: The goal is to make schedules more predictable. "This goes beyond fatigue to the entire quality-of-life issue," notes Richling. Implementation would require union agreements, improvement in scheduling software, and revised policies and procedures.

Establishing criteria for appropriate facilities: Not every facility at which employees stay is conducive to getting adequate rest. Under this program, lodging facilities would be more carefully evaluated — not only in terms of noise levels or whether the rooms have "blackout curtains" but also whether fitness opportunities are available nearby.

• Waivers from existing regulations: Union Pacific is working with the Federal Railroad Administration on regulations that govern how long someone can stay on the job before they must rest. Under the proposed changes, crews would have more time at their discretion, Richling says.