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Rostering and fatigue management

Rostering is a primary control for eliminating or reducing the risks to safety associated with fatigue. Shift patterns have a direct impact on an individual's fatigue levels, which can increase the potential for human errors that lead to accidents.

In the event of an audit, inspection or investigation, an organisation should be able to demonstrate how its rostering practices help manage the risk of a fatigue related incident or accident.

Rostering must consider the impact of work schedules on the potential for fatigue. If work hours are not consistent with good practice, then additional controls may be required to manage increased fatigue related risk. 

Good practice rostering principles and design

Rostering should be underpinned by good practice rostering principles. These are a set of performance-based principles that seek to minimise health and safety risks through roster design and management of work patterns.

Rostering principles should be developed in consultation with rail safety workers and their representatives, particularly those most susceptible to fatigue related risks. The rostering principles should be explicitly documented in the safety management system.

The following principles may be considered in roster design:

  • minimise the time workers spend working on safety duties
  • ensure adequate recovery periods after working night shifts
  • ensure that any rostered period of extended hours is compensated with a longer break before resuming a shift
  • avoid rapid shift changes, especially from night shift to day shift
  • ensure workers have a minimum number of hours free of work in a 14-day period to aid in fatigue recovery, including two nights' sleep
  • minimise consecutive night shifts in order to limit reductions in performance levels caused by circadian disruption, fatigue and reduced alertness
  • take into account the process of circadian rhythm adaptation when workers return to work after a period of extended leave.

In addition, those responsible for rostering should:

  • build in flexibility for rostering to optimise recovery from varying work conditions and unforeseeable events, which may include the consideration of:
    • variations in shifts and rest periods as a result of emergencies
    • degraded or abnormal conditions
    • different environments and routes
    • varying quality of rest environments.
  • monitor actual hours against planned hours, as well as the impact of changes from planned rosters due to shift swapping, overtime or on-call working.
  • within reason, consider fatigue related risks immediately outside work (e.g. commuting demands, secondary employment, etc) which have foreseeable impacts on fatigue at work.

The National Transport Commission's Guideline on the Management of Fatigue in Rail Safety Workers, is based on the advice of fatigue experts. Download the guideline from the National Rail Safety Guidelines section on the National Transport Commission website.

Factors that influence rostering practices

A range of factors may constrain or influence rostering practices including:

  • operating schedules
  • resources
  • information management systems
  • industrial agreements

A common challenge is the impact of enterprise bargaining agreements. Rostering cannot be solely based on limits from enterprise agreements, unless these are consistent with good practice roster design to minimise fatigue.

Bio-mathematical models

If bio-mathematical tools are used it is important that the software model is fully understood. This includes any limits to its validity. These tools should not be used beyond the purposes that they were originally designed for. Bio-mathematical tools should be used in conjunction with good practice rostering principles and the other elements of a fatigue management system.

More information

More information about fatigue and the use of bio-mathematical tools is available on the website of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator.