The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its 2019–2020 “Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements,” the regulatory and voluntary changes the board feels will reduce transportation-related injuries and fatalities.
The NTSB is seeking 267 changes, 46 in the next two years, to address the following issues:
- Eliminating distractions,
- Ending alcohol and drug impairment,
- Ensuring the safe shipment of hazardous materials,
- Fully implementing positive train control,
- Implementing a comprehensive strategy to reduce speeding-related crashes,
- Improving the safety of Part 135 aircraft flight operations,
- Increasing implementation of collision avoidance systems in all new highway vehicles,
- Reducing fatigue-related accidents,
- Requiring medical fitness screening for and treating obstructive sleep apnea, and
- Strengthening occupant protection.
The Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that transportation incidents accounted for 40 percent of occupational fatalities in 2017, a total of 2,077. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers had the largest number of fatal occupational injuries with 840.
Some Recommendations Focus on Employers
Many of the board’s recommendations concern how manufacturers equip passenger vehicles and tractor trailers. However, many, if implemented, would affect employers.
For example, the NTSB wants the motor coach industry to develop formal policies prohibiting cellular telephone use by commercial drivers while operating buses. The board also wants the rail industry to replace or retrofit rail cars carrying flammable liquids and implement positive train control ahead of the deadline, which was extended to December 31, 2020. The original deadline was December 31, 2018.
The NTSB is calling on industry and government to clamp down on operators impaired by drugs and alcohol. The board recommended that:
- The Transportation Department’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) determine the prevalence of commercial motor carrier drivers’ use of impairing substances, especially synthetic cannabinoids;
- FMCSA develop a plan to assist employers in addressing driver use of impairing substances, especially those not covered by current drug-testing regulations;
- FMCSA provide employers with information about hair testing as a means of determining controlled substance abuse; and
- DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration revise their definitions and exemptions covering which employees are subject to post-accident drug and alcohol testing.
Fatigue and Sleep Apnea
The board called vehicle operator fatigue a “pervasive problem.”
“We are calling for a comprehensive approach to combatting fatigue in transportation, focusing on research, education, and training; technology; sleep disorder treatment; hours-of-service regulations; and on- and off-duty scheduling policies and practices,” NTSB said in its report.
The board said undiagnosed and untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) contributes to many preventable accidents.
The NTSB wants the Labor Department to develop and distribute guidelines and training materials cautioning agricultural employers and contract farm laborers about the dangers of driving while tired. The board also wants agricultural employers to develop strategies for managing driver fatigue.
The board also called on Walmart Stores, Inc., to implement a driver fatigue management program.
The NTSB recommended that the FMCSA take the following steps:
- Develop and distribute guidance for commercial drivers, employers, and physicians regarding the identification and treatment of OSA;
- Establish a program to identify commercial drivers at high risk for obstructive sleep apnea and require that those drivers provide medical certification of having been evaluated for sleep apnea and effectively treated, if necessary;
- Set up a program to monitor, evaluate, and continuously improve fatigue management programs implemented by motor carriers to identify, mitigate, and reduce fatigue-related risks for drivers.
The National Safety Council (NSC) expressed support for the NTSB’s recommendations. NSC called on employers in the transportation sector to implement fatigue risk management systems.