Work in the rail yard and on the tracks often requires working non-traditional hours and in just about any type of weather. Combined with the strenuous nature of the work, emergency calls, and overtime, these factors place demands on rail yard workers’ time and may affect their ability to get enough rest.

Lack of rest can result in fatigue setting in, which impairs your workers’ judgment, and can lead to devastating workplace injuries. One wrong move while coupling or uncoupling cars could result in a crushed hand or arm. If a tired employee forgets to set the hand brakes, cars might unexpectedly roll down the tracks and strike someone else.

What your employees need to know about fatigue in the rail yard

Overtime can be enticing to an employee. It’s extra pay, and makes the worker look good to the employer, especially if someone calls in sick for the very next shift. But, is it always worth the extra pay and praise?

According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), one eight-hour overtime shift per week—if done on a regular basis—can keep rail yard workers from getting full rest and recovery.

Even without overtime, working an ever-changing schedule also takes its toll. If an employee works at night on some days and in the daytime on others, they may have trouble developing a regular sleep pattern. This also affects the ability to get enough rest.

Weather conditions such as snow, heavy rain, and high heat force employees to work harder. If workers are already fatigued, this only makes the situation worse and could further impact the quality of their work.

What your employees need to do to minimize fatigue in the rail yard

First, recognize the dangers of working while fatigued. Workers should accept their limitations and not overextend themselves, especially when it comes to working too much overtime.

Second, get that much-needed rest. This includes taking all scheduled breaks during the work day and avoiding the temptation to work through them. It also includes getting enough sleep while off work, which can be a challenge if there is a lot of overtime.

What to cover at your safety meeting on rail yard fatigue

Discuss fatigue with your employees and seek their input on how to best manage these factors.

Other items to cover include:

  • When to take a break. Set a mandatory break schedule and a specific break area away from work zones.
  • Review your overtime policy and consider placing limits on how much overtime each employee may work.
  • Remind workers not to overextend themselves and discuss warning signs of fatigue.

Fatigue and lack of attention by rail yard workers can lead to serious errors resulting in major injury or even death.

The non-traditional hours and need for overtime in the rail yard industry aren’t going away. But managing schedules, encouraging proper rest, and employees knowing their limitations helps minimize the injury risk.