Norfolk Southern Corporation
-From Francesca Litow, Chief Medical Officer: In response to the 2014 collision of two Union Pacific trains in Hoxie, Arkansas, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a series of recommendations, two of which were directed to Class I Railroads such as Norfolk Southern Railway Co. ("NS"). The first recommendation suggested we "revise as necessary [our] rules ... to ensure you are informed of any diagnosed sleep disorders that employees in safety -sensitive positions" suffer, as well as "perform periodic evaluations [of employees diagnosed with sleep apnea] to ensure the condition is appropriately treated and the employee is fit for duty." (R-16-045). The second recommendation suggested we "[r]evise ... scheduling practices for train crews and implement science -based tools, such as validated biomathematical models, to reduce start time variability that results in irregular work -rest cycles and fatigue." (R-16-046) I have detailed below Norfolk Southern's current actions and planned additional steps as well as some brief background information:
I. Background Information about Norfolk Southern
NS is a Class I railroad operating primarily in the eastern United States. NS has more than 28,000 employees and approximately 19,500 route miles of track. NS serves every major container port in the eastern United States, and it provides efficient connections with other rail carriers. NS operates the most extensive rail network in the East and is a major transporter of coal, automotive, and industrial products.
B. Safety Training and Safety Culture
NS takes numerous steps to enhance employee safety. NS provides all operations employees with regular rules training, in which they are trained on NS' safety and operating rules. NS has several safety rules relevant to the NTSB recommendations, including Safety Rules 917 (employees "[a]re prohibited from reporting for duty or remaining at work if their ability to safely perform those duties is adversely impacted by their medical condition(s)" and "[m]ust notify NS Health Services promptly of a 'reportable' medical condition or medical event"), 918 ("an employee must not engage in any outside activity that interferes with proper rest"), 919 ("employees must report for duty properly rested"), and 921 ("an employee called to report for service, who will not have legal rest at the indicated time to go on duty, must inform the caller before accepting the call"). Safety Rule 917 and its accompanying "Medical Condition and Medication Guidance" was revised recently to emphasize the importance of employees reporting dangerous medical conditions. However, upon review of NTSB recommendation R-16-045, we have decided to clarify our "Medical Condition and Medication Guidance" (which accompanies Safety Rule 917), in order to make clear that sleep apnea is one of the medical conditions that must be reported.
Employees also receive regular one-on-one safety contacts with supervisors, in which the supervisor reviews an employee's safety record and discusses strategies for safe workplace practices, such as identifying and eliminating behaviors that could compromise safety.
Employees also regularly engage in job safety briefings, in which crews discuss any unusual conditions or hazards and how to perform their assignments safely. There also are regular safety meetings for employees to attend, where supervisors summarize any recently reported accidents and discuss ways in which those accidents or injuries might have been prevented.
NS' unwavering commitment to safety is further demonstrated through its comprehensive structure of proactive safety committees that operate at all levels of the company. For example, each of NS' operating divisions has its own safety committees, comprised of division -level managers and other company representatives. Each month, those committees discuss new ideas for proactively improving safety.
NS also is careful to ensure that its safety programs both improve safety and comply with all laws protecting employee rights, including but not limited to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Hours of Service Act. For example, NS insists that an employee who reports an injury or a possible violation of law, rule, regulation or NS policy must not be harassed, intimidated, or disciplined for making the report. To emphasize this commitment, NS provides detailed training to its supervisors at all levels on their obligation to not retaliate against employees for engaging in legally protected activity.
Il. NS Actively Screens for Sleep Apnea and Ensures that Employees with Sleep Apnea are Not Permitted to Perform Safety -Sensitive Work Until Their Condition is Appropriately Treated
A. New Employees
All job offers are contingent upon passing a drug test and medical review. The post -job offer medical exams include, among other things, express questions about past or current diagnoses of sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. Next, relevant follow-up questions and requests for all medical records are made, as appropriate, so that an applicant who reports a history of a sleep disorder will not be hired for a safety -sensitive job until the company's Chief Medical Officer can review all of the facts, including but not limited to reports from polysomnography or other sleep studies and data to support compliance with prescribed CPAP machines and any prescribed medications.
Based upon the Apnea-Hypopnea Index and a review of all medically relevant information, the Chief Medical Officer makes a determination of medical fitness for duty for safety -sensitive positions. If there is insufficient information provided by a job offeree to support compliance with appropriate treatment, as well as stability and control of symptoms, NS will delay the hire of that individual.
B. Current Employees
Supervisors of employees in safety -sensitive positions receive training on how to recognize a potentially unsafe employee and how to report health concerns to the Chief Medical Officer. As a result, employees engaged in train and engine service undergo fitness -for -service medical examinations both periodically and whenever a reasonable concern about the employee's fitness has been raised. These examinations include a questionnaire that expressly asks about any past or current diagnosis of sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.
C. NS Does Not Permit Individuals with Sleep Apnea to Perform Safety -Sensitive Duties Until the Condition has been Appropriately Treated and is Stable When the Chief Medical Officer learns that an employee performing a safety -sensitive job has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, the Chief Medical Officer will request information including documentation of the results of polysomnography or other sleep studies, physician evaluations, and data to support compliance with prescribed Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines and any prescribed medications.
If an employee with a diagnosed sleep disorder does not comply with a request for this information, and/or review of the information the employee provides indicates that the employee is noncompliant with treatment recommendations (including but not limited to CPAP and prescribed medications), the Chief Medical Officer will medically disqualify the employee until such time as the employee provides medical information that demonstrates compliance with prescribed treatment as well as stability and control of the sleep disorder.
Ill. NS Takes Numerous Steps to Proactively Guard Against Employee Fatigue
NS has invested in several new technologies to address and mitigate the risks of employee fatigue. For example, NS is working diligently on installing Positive Train Control (PTC). In addition, NS has implemented Movement Planner, Unified Train Control System (UTCS) and CrewVue to improve train scheduling and predictability throughout our network. These innovations allow NS to better balance crews at home and away terminals, improve the accuracy of train line-ups, and allow employees access to notifications by text or e-mail when they reach certain board or pool placements. To further enhance predictable work and rest cycles, NS has partnered with Interdynamics, a leading provider of risk management software, to develop an Assigned Service Planning Tool. This tool promises to aid NS in identifying opportunities to increase the number of assignments with scheduled on -duty times or calling windows as well as scheduled rest days.
In addition to technological fatigue countermeasures, NS has adopted several new policies and collective bargaining agreements to mitigate potential fatigue. For example, NS has implemented a napping policy for select employees. Also, the 2015 Collective Bargaining Agreement between NS and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) provides a method - Predictable Workforce Scheduling - for engineers to more frequently and regularly change assignments to allow them to better respond to, and balance, work/life issues.
While a significant number of our engineers have long been afforded scheduled rest days and/or reporting times in yard, local and assigned through freight service, the 2015 Agreement also provides a framework that affords every engineer in all classes of service, including extra boards and unassigned freight pools, access to predictable time off through scheduled (and consecutive) rest days. Similarly, NS has worked with International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART -TD) to implement work/rest extra boards throughout our system. These arrangements enhance the predictability of work/rest periods, provide more consecutive rest hours, and offer the opportunity to reduce the amount of time an employee spends away from home during a given cycle, further increasing an employee's opportunity to manage work/life issues.
In addition to these initiatives, NS complies with the Hours of Service Act. As you are aware, this Act addresses fatigue by controlling how many hours covered service employees may work, providing limitations on the consecutive -days of work and the cumulative monthly activity of train and engine service employees and prescribing uninterrupted rest between starts and after six consecutive starts.
Finally, NS employees are afforded reasonable privileges to call off work (mark -off) in addition to collectively bargained and federally mandated time off. Scrutiny of employee attendance is not triggered by a single mark -off. Rather, our attendance policy focuses on extended and defined periods during which frequent, pattern and/or unexplained mark -offs occur. In cases where handling for absences during a given period is warranted under the attendance policy, the first step is always counseling. And, subsequent handlings for poor attendance do not result in unpaid suspension until an employee continues to demonstrate an unwillingness or inability to remediate his/her behavior.
IV. Planned Efforts to Identify Undiagnosed Sleep Apnea
U.S. rail regulators are regretfully behind both Australia (see Australia National Transport Commission, "National Standards for Health Assessment of Rail Safety Workers) and FMCSA in setting standards and specifying BMI thresholds for testing for sleep apnea. While we strongly encourage regulators to promptly take action in this regard, NS also is exploring ways to proactively identify job offerees and current employees who should be tested for sleep apnea.
We currently envision this effort occurring during pre -employment physical examinations (for job offerees) or triennial FRA -required physical examinations (for current employees). During these examinations, NS would assess an individual to determine whether he/she possesses certain well -established sleep -apnea risk factors. If so, NS would require the employee either to: (1) provide documentation that he/she had been tested for sleep apnea and that any identified condition is controlled, or (2) submit to a sleep apnea test.
If, as a result of this screening, an individual tested positive for sleep apnea or was identified as having a record of untreated sleep apnea, NS' plan would likely be to follow the same protocols that it presently uses for handling individuals who self -report sleep apnea, i.e., holding the individual out of service until he/she has produced medical documentation showing that their sleep apnea is under control.
Safety is NS' number one priority, and we thank you for your recommendations and for your interest in these important safety topics. While NS continues to support implementation of federal safety standards that clearly address sleep apnea, we trust this response adequately details NS' full compliance with NTSB's recommended actions and we respectfully request that NTSB designate R-16-045 and R-16-046 as "Closed -Acceptable Action" with regards to NS.