Idaho's 12,000 lane miles and nearly 2,000 bridges represent a multi-billion-dollar investment by the state's taxpayers.
The entire 1,550-member Idaho Transportation Department workforce protects that investment each day, and no group has a more direct impact on the condition of these assets than ITD's maintenance workers. ITD has not previously had a policy to help ensure that physical and mental fatigue is not negatively impacting their performance.
The sustained long hours worked by ITD's maintenance team last winter combatting a historically brutal winter shed light on this shortcoming. Travis McGrath, new ITD chief operating officer set out to do something about that.
The goal was to create policy not only for maintenance forces, but also for ITD employees overall, regardless of position. So, the department has implemented an interim fatigue-management policy to protect its people and assets.
“An interim policy is in effect now,” McGrath said. “This is an interim policy for this winter. The goal is to develop a 'full' policy next year that will consider more fatigue-related scenarios and possibly the larger topic of 'fitness for duty.' Both types of policies are common in industry to help improve employee safety.”
Fatigue is defined as physical and/or mental weariness from labor, exertion, lack of sleep and/or stress. Fatigue is a safety hazard. It can impair our ability to complete activities safely and error-free, and may result in harm to ourselves, co-workers, contractors and/or the traveling public. Fatigued employees are more susceptible to incidents and crashes; have reduced awareness about hazards and site conditions; have slower reaction times; and are less able to respond to emergencies or unusual conditions
The provisions in the interim fatigue-management policy are as follows:
Single work days: The standard work day is eight hours. Single work days may be extended if necessary, but single work days (or nights) should be limited to no more than 12 working hours. A person who works eight or more hours in a day should have at least eight hours of rest before returning to work.
Five sequential 12-hour shifts (60-hour work weeks): The TOTL/supervisor can approve extending work schedules beyond a typical 40-hour work week for up to five days in a row, with each day up to 12 hours long (i.e., not to exceed 60 hours in a five-day week). Once an employee/operator has been relieved of duty after a 60-hour work week, the employee/operator may not return to work for any reason for a minimum of 24 hours.
Six sequential 12-hour shifts (72-hour work weeks): In rare circumstances, it might be necessary for particular individuals to work even longer weeks. If this is the case, and if the TOTL/supervisor and the employee conduct a joint fatigue assessment and determine the risk is acceptable, the TOTL/supervisor can approve extending work schedules beyond a 60-hour work week for up to six days in a row, with each day up to 12 hours long (not to exceed 72 hours in a six-day week). Once an employee/operator has been relieved of duty after a 72-hour work week, the operator may not return to work for any reason for a minimum of 36 hours.
“ITD's leadership is committed to a safe and secure working environment for our employees,” said McGrath. “One key to that is adequately identifying and managing risk due to fatigue. This interim policy takes the first big step in that direction.”
McGrath acknowledged that there will be questions or concerns as we head into what could be another taxing winter. He encouraged workers to talk to their supervisors for more details.