Alcohol and other drug use and safety critical operations in the Australian rail industry

February 2019

Dr Janine Chapman

Professor Ann Roche

Mr Roger Nicholas

Dr Valerie O’Keeffe

Other investigators: 

Associate Professor Anjum Naweed, Appleton Institute for Behavioural Science, Central Queensland University

Ms Lorelle Bowditch, Appleton Institute for Behavioural Science, Central Queensland University

Associate Professor Jill Dorrian, Behaviour-Brain-Body Research Centre (BBB), University of South Australia

Dr Nora Balfe, Centre for Innovation in Human Systems (CIHS), Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

Project description: 

NCETA is partnering with national and international researchers to undertake the first ever investigation of the link between AOD use and safety risk in the Australian Rail Industry.

In Australia, rail driving is overrepresented by an aging cohort. Drivers are at increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic health conditions and are classified as one of the highest ‘at risk’ occupations for work-related mental disorders. These issues carry serious safety implications in terms of driver distraction, impairment, and risk of sudden incapacity.

To date, little is known about AOD use in train drivers, the relationship between AOD use and physical and mental health, or the association between driver AOD use and safety risk.

A national survey of train drivers is currently underway, supported by the Australasian Railway Association, the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board, and over ten rail operators across Australia and New Zealand.

The aim of the survey is to determine the precursors of Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD) events – an industry term for when a train moves past a stop sign without authority – and other operational incidents across the industry.

Alongside established predictors of SPAD events such as driver fatigue, NCETA will explore:

  • Prevalence of AOD risk in train drivers
  • Associations between driver AOD use and SPAD incidence
  • Outcomes associated with prescription medications in combination with AOD use
  • Workplace culture and norms around AOD use
  • Alcohol-related absenteeism.

This project, due for completion in mid-2019, is the first in a suite of planned rail industry-related AOD research projects. Further planned research includes a scoping project to assess AOD-related risk to rail track workers.

These research findings will be used by NCETA and its partners to:

  • Enhance the capacity of the rail industry to identify and respond effectively to AOD-related issues
  • Inform the development of evidence-based risk mitigation strategies.