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Metro board considers employee fatigue

Hours on job focus of review

- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2011

Metro employees who operate trains, drive buses and perform hazardous track repairs might be working too much, suffering from fatigue and posing possible safety hazards, Metro's board of directors suggested Thursday.

The board debated the question after an earlier request from Mortimer Downey, the chairman of Metro's Safety and Security Committee, to examine worker fatigue among Metro employees.

"You can't test for fatigue like drug and alcohol testing," Mr. Downey said.

No action was taken on the topic Thursday, but the discussion raised questions about the standards in place for people who perform different jobs within the transit agency and the need to maintain a safe working environment.

"I think we have to send a message that the trade-off on safety can't be made in such a way through scheduling or other work practices that puts other issues, other values, ahead of safety," he said.

There are no federal regulations for hours of service that Metro must meet, said Matthew Bassett, chairman of the Tri-State Oversight Committee, a body made up of Maryland, Virginia and D.C. appointees that oversees Metro safety and security affairs.

Mr. Bassett said the transit system is seen as a leader for adopting voluntary standards set by the American Public Transportation Association. And while Metro employees cross state lines on a daily basis, it's considered a state system.

The recognized industry standard for train operators, Mr. Bassett said, "is they can work no more than 14 hours in one shift. Between each shift they must be given no less than 10 hours, with the presumption of eight hours of uninterrupted rest."

Michael Barnes, a Maryland representative on the Metro board, said he "wasn't sure if [he] wanted to be on a train with someone who'd been driving a train for 13, 14 hours."

Metro General Manager for Operations Dave Kubicek said that "10 to 12 hours is a good work window" but that type of industry standard also "depends on the intensity of work."

Christian Kent, Metro's assistant general manager of access services, said that the MetroAcess drivers, who provide door-to-door service for riders unable to take the main transit routes, can work 13-hour shifts with one hour for lunch, because "there's a significant amount [of time] spent not driving."

Tom Downs, a D.C. representative to the board, warned that he was not sure the board was being aggressive enough about fatigue standards.

"It's important for us to set reasonable limits on hours of service in this kind of environment," given the large machinery, high voltage lines, monetary incentives and "value for off peak and unscheduled work" in the Metro system, Mr. Downs said.

Mr. Kubicek said the goal in question is to "sustain a lot of work for several years and how to make sure [employees] are alert and taking care of themselves."

The committee agreed to revisit the topic in the fall.

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