NTC opts for flexibility on rail fatigue regs

NTC snubs NSW approach to rail fatigue regulations, proposing flexible system giving operators power to set work and rest hours

By Brad Gardner | February 28, 2012

The National Transport Commission has rejected prescribed fatigue regulations for the rail industry, proposing a flexible approach that gives operators the power to set their own work and rest hours.

In a snub to the current regime in place in NSW, a draft regulatory impact statement on how fatigue should be governed once a single safety regulator begins next year opposes applying fixed conditions nationally.

Unlike other states, the NTC says NSW imposes further limitations on maximum hours of work and minimum periods of rest for train drivers.

Queensland recently took a step toward the NSW system, but the NTC says adopting the scheme nationally means other states and territories will need to jettison their co-regulatory approach – a move the NTC believes is counterproductive.

"In other states and territories, where there are no legislated hours of work, the approach to working time restrictions is solely through the co-regulatory risk management process; rail transport operators document policies and principles behind their rostering practices in their fatigue risk management programs under the oversight of regulators," the RIS says.

"Given the strong safety record in existing Australian rail operational practices, NTC is unable to make a significant case for change. This conclusion points to an outcome [to]…not introduce any additional mandatory, or quasi-mandatory, limitations around hours of work or rest."

The paper lists four possible approaches to regulating fatigue under national regulations, and the NTC suggests a performance-based approach.

"The option allows operators to establish hours of work and rest through the risk-based approach, subject to consultative provisions and regulatory oversight," it says.

It says a non-prescriptive approach meets the objective of a national rail safety regulator to streamline the regulatory and compliance burden on operators.

"Additionally, it does not prevent operators from considering all factors affecting the safety of operations and taking a more holistic approach to reducing safety risks," the NTC says.

"Prescriptive limits may also shift focus away from risk management as the limits become ‘safe’ rostering targets and acceptable practice sanctioned by government, without due regard to the risk environment."

The NTC says the diversity of rail operations makes it difficult to establish a single set of restrictions to apply in all circumstances.

Alternative options listed in the RIS include applying the NSW model nationally and a framework to help operators introduce measures to offset the risk of longer work hours and decreasing rest periods.

The framework, if adopted, will specify the outer limits for work hours and the minimum periods of rest during and between shifts.

The RIS also lists as an option a risk-based approach that includes categorising different classes of workers based on the impact of working while fatigued.

A single rail safety regulator was agreed to in 2009 to replace the existing seven safety regulators currently in place. It is due to be begin in January 2013.

"Complying with multiple fatigue management regulations can be costly and confusing for the rail industry, particularly interstate operators," NTC CEO Nick Dimopoulos says.

"Introduction of agreed national fatigue requirements will lead to a safer, more efficient and more competitive rail industry."

A series of consultation forums has been scheduled across Australia during March to seek feedback on the RIS before a final document is sent to transport ministers for approval in May.

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