Good Practice in Train Driver Health & Wellness (Guideline)

Type of product being suggested:
Title of product being suggested:
Good Practice in Train Driver Health & Wellness
Date of suggestion:
Reason for suggestion:
Recent research reveals that cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders and rates of obesity in train drivers have steadily risen over the last decade. They are now higher than the general population and continuing to rise.
The National Health Standard for Rail Safety Workers was introduced in 2004. So why are driver’s getting sicker?
The National Health Standard was only intended as a monitoring tool, to enable identification of at-risk workers. However, many organisations have used it to replace local health and wellness initiatives, and mistakenly used it as an intervention. It was not designed for this purpose and it will not improve health status.
Operators do not know how to address the issue and coordinated efforts are urgently needed to tackle it, in order to safeguard this workforce.
This Good Practice Guideline is an urgent first-step to coordinate our efforts and promote the Health and Wellness of the driver workforce in the industry
Sponsored by RISSB Standing Committee:
Safety Standing Committee
The scope of the project:
The scope of the project would be the creation of a national guideline in accordance with RISSB’s accredited development process. There is a significant body of contemporary work that would form a basis for this guideline. As such it is expected that the development effort/cost would be minimal; the end product would be high value, low cost.The scope of the guideline:

  • Compile a comprehensive account of barriers to health status that have been shown to impede health status within intractable industries (such as rail).
  • Compile a comprehensive account of facilitators that may be used to overcome these barriers, and improve health status
  • Categorise health facilitators
  • Show what can be done to promote driver health and wellness at the rail organisational level
  • Show what can be done to overcome the barriers associated with job design and shift-work associated with rail driving
  • Show how train drivers may be able to ‘work around’ health barriers at an individual level
  • Incorporate research that has already been carried out by CQUniversity and Flinders University, including facilitators that have been used and validated by Australian train drivers (i.e. reflect the bespoke profile of the Australian rail industry)
Hazard identification:
10.13 Unfit worker on duty
2 Ineffective health standard (especially the way it is being perceived / used)
3 Overrun of Limit of Authority


Safety risk
While this guideline would consider health beyond obesity, it is telling that the 2010 impact assessment from the National Health Standards revealed that 47% of train drivers were obese. Increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders (e.g. diabetes) and other comorbidities (e.g. obesity) are a problem for train driving, where they are associated with specific safety risks and negative organisational outcomes. Research is also highlighting some of these issues as risk factors for signal passed at danger event (SPADs). Safe guarding the health and wellness of our drivers corresponds directly with increased safety, and how risk is managed.
Operators have an obligation to discharge their duty of care for workers, and this Guideline may be used to ensure access to critical information in order to make that happen. As coordinated efforts are required, it is also the first-step in the safety case for promoting train driver health and wellness.
Interoperability / harmonisation
Very little sharing or learning is happening on this issue. The misappropriation of the National Health Standard and mistaken views on its utility lend further evidence to this.
The problem is that many operators do not know how to address the issues, or may not even know that this is a significant contributing factor. This Guideline will achieve greater transparency of this issue, and provide information that recognises what organisations can actually do to tackle it.
This Guideline is critical for ensuring that RISSB members can learn from what others are doing, and understand how different environments (e.g. heavy haul, passenger, light rail) can tackle the issue. It is an essential first-step to create harmonisation and interoperability across the industry.
Train driver ill-health places a significant financial burden on the rail industry in terms of absenteeism and decreased productivity. Reducing these issues will drive out the associated costs. As train drivers are an aging cohort with a high turnover, it is critical to safeguard their health in order to increase safety, prevent skills shortages and deliver future demand for rail services.
This Guideline is ‘low-hanging fruit’ from the RISSB product development perspective. It will translate findings that funded as part of a university Merit Grant between CQUniversity and Flinders University. The research that would inform this product has therefore been conducted already, and costs to develop the Guideline would be minimal.