May 14, 2002
CHICAGO (May 24)–How much sleep should train, plane, maritime and trucking personnel get between work shifts? How long can operating employees stay on duty without losing attention and causing a serious accident?
What’s the right ratio between hours of service and hours of rest in the different sectors of the transportation industry? Should airline pilots work the same number of hours as locomotive engineers or river pilots? Who gets to make the rules, anyway? Management? Unions? Individual employees? Government?
And if the answer turns out to be that transportation safety requires fewer hours of work and longer hours of rest, who will pay? Employees? Carriers? Shippers? Passengers?
All of those questions–and more–will be addressed June 25-26, when three Northwestern University research institutes jointly sponsor a nationwide conference called Managing Fatigue in Transportation. The university’s Transportation Center, Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology and Center for Public Safety have invited 20 leading figures from government and private industry to discuss the latest in transportation-fatigue research with NU scientists working on the same problems.
Speakers representing the transportation industry include former U.S. Transportation Sec. Sam Skinner, now Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of US Freightways Corp.; Edward Hamberger, President of the Association of American Railroads; Donald Schneider, President of nationwide truckload carrier Schneider National, Inc.; Michael Wickham, Chairman and CEO of Roadway Express; Alan Lindsey, Director of Safety and Rules, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway; and Craig Philip, CEO of Ingram Barge Co.
The carrier executives will be joined by Joseph Clapp, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; Carlos Comperatore of the U.S. Coast Guard; Margaret Sweeney, Transportation Research Analyst at the National Transportation Safety Board; and two insurance experts, Wayne Wignes, President of Chicago-based AON Corp.; and John Shortreed of the Institute for Risk Research at the University of Waterloo, Ont.
Scientists who have been researching fatigue in the transportation industry include Gregory Belenky of the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research; Drew Dawson, Director of the Centre for Applied Behavioral Science, University of South Australia; David Dinges, Chief of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania; Mellisa Mallis, of the Fatigue Countermeasures Program at NASA”s Ames Research Center; and Fred W. Turek, Director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology at Northwestern.
“I believe there is no more pressing safety issue in the railroad industry today than that of employee fatigue,” UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “The excessive, erratic and unpredictable hours that crews are routinely mandated to work have been pushed to an extreme. It is time to seek solutions that will enable railroad employees to balance their work responsibilities with their obligation to protect their own health while providing their families with a quality home environment.”
Szabo said the university’s conference may represent a step in that direction.
“I’m encouraged to see Northwestern bringing so many decisionmakers from the transportation industry and government together with the scientific researchers who are getting to the bottom of the fatigue issue,” Szabo said. “The level of professionalism represented at this conference suggests that despite the controversies often associated with fatigue, a serious effort is being made to examine the problem in a dispassionate, objective way and to share the latest scientific findings with all the participants.”
Szabo did express concern, however, that the list of conference speakers does not include anyone who currently represents organized labor.
“The group is scheduled to hear an address by Jeffrey N. Zeh, who used to be president of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees,” Szabo said. “But it appears that the conference sponsors did not reach out to any current officers of unions representing airline pilots, towboat crews, truck or bus drivers, railroad engineers or conductors, or the crews of oceangoing or Great Lakes vessels. I consider that a serious oversight.”
Szabo called the lack of union representation at the conference “unfortunate.”
“It’s our people whose lives, health and family values are impacted daily by the burdens of excessive working hours and lack of adequate and predictable rest periods,” he said. “The carriers have their economic interests, and our people understand that. Government has a public-safety interest, and we understand and respect that too. But those interests do not have sufficient incentive to address the fatigue problem with full force. Operating employees and their unions do.”
Szabo did note that he was able to bring some of his views to the attention of faculty members at the university’s Transportation Center during an informal workshop on the fatigue issue held there May 21.
“They were very understanding and receptive to the union point of view,” he said.
All sessions of the conference will meet at the Owen L. Coon Forum, 2001 Sheridan Road, on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, Ill. The conference opens Tuesday, June 25, at 8:30 a.m. and concludes Wednesday, June 26, at 1 p.m. Admission prior to June 3 is $400. For additional information, contact the conference planning staff at http://www.nutc.northwestern.edu/fatigue.