We spoke to CIRAS member and rail contractor Swietelsky about their approach to managing fatigue. With staff mostly working shifts across multiple sites, fatigue is a significant risk factor for Swietelsky. They have recognised that compliance is not enough and looked at ways to go above and beyond to manage the risks associated with fatigue and look out for the welfare of their staff. Read our interview with Swietelsky’s Health and Safety Assistant, Megan Collins.     

What are you doing to tackle fatigue in Swietelsky?

We’ve developed our own ‘Fatigue & Risk Management System’ which monitors working hours and calculates Fatigue and Risk Index (FRI) ratings using HSE’s FRI Calculator.  Staff have a ‘booking on’ app which collects data on start and finish times – including travel time. The system automatically calculates the Working Time Limits for each individual. This includes shift length, rest periods, weekly hours and cumulative shifts.  Network Rail has set thresholds for these limits, and our system highlights if these thresholds have been exceeded. The HSE Calculator then calculates fatigue and risk ratings for each staff member. 

A daily email alert goes to all managers and supervisors, alerting them to any ‘at risk’ staff who have exceeded (or are at risk of exceeding) the limits using a traffic lights system. They can then decide what mitigation measures are suitable, for example talk to staff, take them off shift, arrange overnight accommodation. 

In addition, all staff are briefed to alert their supervisor or manager if they feel their fatigue levels could affect their safety, that of their colleagues or the work they are undertaking. If they can’t reach an agreement on a safe way forward, our staff are advised to invoke our ‘Worksafe Procedure’ (which permits them to stop work in unsafe conditions), and report it to us as a close call. 

Is it working?

We have only been running the predictive part of our system this year. So far there have been 10 instances where our system predicted staff were likely to exceed safe fatigue and risk thresholds for upcoming shifts. On all 10 occasions, we acted (e.g. reducing hours, replacing on shift) to reduce the ratings to acceptable ranges. We also ran a six-monthly review recently, comparing figures from 2017 with 2018, which showed that:

  • exceedances of our fatigue rating thresholds were reduced by 62%
  • exceedances of our risk rating thresholds were reduced by 71%

How does your approach go beyond simply complying with basic legal requirements?

The legal requirements for the management of fatigue are quite vague. Regulation 25 of the Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations (ROGS) 2006 states “Every controller of safety critical work shall have in place arrangements to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that a safety critical worker under his management, supervision or control does not carry out safety critical work in circumstances where he is so fatigued or where he would be liable to become so fatigued that his health or safety or the health or safety of other persons on a transport system could be significantly affected.”

However, this only applies to organisations who are subject to these regulations. In addition, the HSE calculator doesn’t set thresholds for its ratings – so we have used our own experience of workforce working patterns to set our own.  We supplement this with continual monitoring of fatigue levels to identify trends and areas for improvement. We are proactive, predicting where exceedances may occur and intervening before this can cause a serious accident.

Some companies may omit travelling time from their calculations when managing fatigue, but we ensure this is not the case. Our calculations are taken to and from place of rest to shift and back again. Road risk is a big issue in our industry and commuting can contribute significantly to fatigue.

Why is it important to go beyond compliance?

Taking a proactive approach to managing fatigue has created additional benefits for Swietelsky. It has allowed us to gain a deeper insight into the causal factors behind fatigue and its role as a potential root cause in safety incidents. This insight to helps us prevent future safety incidents. We also know the role fatigue can play in the health and wellbeing of our people. Working with our staff to prevent excessive fatigue, we are helping them improve their wellbeing and potentially reducing instances of ill health and time off sick.

What advice would you give others thinking of taking a similar approach?

  • No fatigue management system will work without the buy in and co-operation of your workforce, so get them on board when you are planning and consult them throughout.  
  • Educate your staff on fatigue and provide guidance on how they can take personal responsibility for managing it themselves. 
  • Make sure you dedicate enough time and resource to your fatigue management system to ensure you get the most out of it. 

Find out more about Swietelsky’s approach to fatigue by contacting Megan Collins at megan.collins@swietelsky.co.uk