Long worker hours at Metro hazardous, oversight agency finds

Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Some Metro employees have worked more than 16 hours at a time without limits on how many days in a row they can work, leading to potentially dangerous conditions, according to a new report that was prompted by The Washington Examiner's reporting.

The long hours mean that some workers try to "pull the weight" for tired co-workers, while supervisors ignore prohibited 15-minute naps, an analysis from the Tri-State Oversight Committee and Metro found. Transit agency workers and supervisors told investigators they share the "widespread belief" that Metro's existing rules and practices do not do enough to prevent fatigue that has led to accident and injuries.

"Employee fatigue is generally recognized as a hazard," a summary says.

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  • Matt Bassett, who chairs the independent TOC group charged with monitoring Metrorail safety, declined to comment until the report could be presented to Metro's board on Thursday.

    In June, board members had called for reforms and the TOC pledged to study the problem after The Examiner reported that 87 MetroAccess drivers had been caught falling asleep while driving; and that was even before Metro made them work longer, 13-hour shifts. The Examiner also reported in May that some construction inspectors and track supervisors logged more than 40 hours of overtime a week, working 16 hours every day for weeks on end.

    The report confirmed such long hours among some workers, finding at least two instances during the 28-day July study period when an employee worked 112 hours in one week, the equivalent of 16-hour shifts for seven straight days.

    The long hours occur because transit agencies such as Metro face no federal limits on how long employees may work, unlike truck drivers and airplane pilots.

    A Metro union agreement requires that train and bus operators must have eight hours off every 24 hours, but few rules apply to other workers who also do safety-sensitive work.

    There also are no limits on how many days in a row workers can log without a day off, which the report said can lead to cumulative fatigue.

    Examiner Archives
  • WMATA: Overtime a 'cost of doing business' (8-17-11)
  • Hundreds of Metro workers take home at least $40k in OT (8-17-11)
  • Examiner Local Editorial: Metro's excessive overtime puts public at risk (5-9-11)
  • Metro workers are taking home big overtime dollars (5-8-11)
  • Metro seeking answers to overtime problem (1-19-07)
  • Part of the problem is that when workers sign up for overtime, they have little flexibility and must work "any and all" shifts they are given, according to the study, first reported by The Washington Post. Workers' assignments are not reviewed for whether they may lead to fatigue.

    In addition to the problem of Metro workers logging long hours at the transit agency, some employees work other jobs. That isn't allowed, but the study found the rule relies on employees to report themselves.

    Metro has acknowledged it needs to improve and plans to be among the first transit agencies to formalize and enforce hours of service, a Metro presentation about the report says.

    The agency plans to formally limit the workday to 16 hours per day for all jobs. And by the end of 2012, it plans to limit the workday to 14 hours, starting with a pilot project next year limiting pre-planned overtime for some track technicians.

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