NTSB Most Wanted: Distractions, Fatigue, and Implementing PTC Top the List

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its yearly “Most Wanted List” for 2019-2020, featuring issues of critical importance to reducing hazards and accidents across the industry. Among the list of ten areas of concern were several relevant to the rail and bus transit industries, in particular:

  1. Eliminating distractions
  2. Reducing fatigue-related accidents
  3. Fully implementing Positive Train Control (PTC)
  4. Ending alcohol and other drug impairment
  5. Requiring screening and treatment for obstructive sleep apnea

In projects with clients across the country, TRA has seen the impact of these issues up close. Through involvement with NTSB investigations as well as state safety oversight (SSO) support activities, TRA personnel have worked with both leadership and front-line personnel to determine how some of the most urgent of these issues – in particular, distractions and fatigue/hours of service concerns – can be met head-on using best practices from across the industry. Through SSO audits of rail transit agency hours of service policies and their implementation, as well as industry research on the topic, our team members have seen fatigue increase as a root cause of incidents and accidents. Hours of service restrictions, developed thoughtfully and with input from stakeholder across all levels of an agency, can often help reduce these issues.

Another of these areas of concern, sleep apnea and its impact on transit operators in particular, has emerged as a problem across the industry. Although the NTSB’s focus in its Most Wanted List is on highway and railroad modes, many bus and multi-modal agencies have had to confront increased rates of sleep apnea and other medical issues among their operators. Addressing the problem at its root is a top priority for many transit agencies, but finding a solution is a complicated process, made more challenging by the ever-increasing need for operators as transit systems expand and up the frequency of their services. Ultimately, addressing the health of transit operators as a factor in safe operations and ensuring they receive necessary treatment for sleep apnea and other medical issues that impair job fitness for duty can only benefit the agency, its employees, and customers.

For more information, visit the NTSB’s website: https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/mwl/Pages/default.aspx

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