Technical Reports

A Preliminary Examination of Railroad Dispatcher Workload, Stress, and Fatigue

  • 01
  • May
  • 2001
AUTHOR: S. Popkin, J. Gertler, S. Reinach
SUBJECT: Fatigue Management, Human Factors
KEYWORDS: railroad dispatcher, workload, stress, fatigue
ABSTRACT: This report presents the methods, findings and recommendations from a field study that examined the sources and levels of railroad dispatcher workload, stress, and fatigue. The study was initiated in response to concerns raised by two Federal Railroad Administration safety audits of dispatching operations in the U.S. The work was performed in three phases. The first phase identified suitable data collection instruments for measuring the three factors, Phase 2 involved a pilot field test of the instruments and field study procedures, and Phase 3 involved field data collection. Data collected in the field at two sites included physiological measures as well as self-report data, third party observation and paper records. Based on self-report health data, study participants aged 25 to 44 experienced several disorders at a significantly higher rate than found among the U.S. population. Information from the participant background survey was used in conjunction with physiological measures, activity count data and subjective ratings of workload, stress and fatigue. Subjective workload ratings were moderately associated with reported number of trains dispatched, regardless of shift or location while subjective fatigue ratings had the lowest association with this measure of workload. Subjective ratings of stress increased throughout all shifts while salivary cortisol levels, a physiological measure of stress, were within normal adult limits. Sleep patterns of study participants were typical of shift workers in general. An observational technique provided additional data on variations in workload throughout the shift. Modifications and enhancements to both the measures and protocol for future studies of railroad dispatcher workload, stress, and fatigue are offered as issues for further research. Appendices contain copies of the data collection tools used in the field study along with supporting data and statistical analyses.