A shift can start at any time
Appropriate shift planning can support the work ability of engine drivers, says Toni Nokkala, Engine Driver and former occupational safety and health officer at VR.
I like working as an engine driver, because the work is independent, involves just the right amount of responsibility and feels meaningful. The driver’s “office” has breathtaking views!
For 12 years, I was the national occupational safety and health officer. In this role, I participated in risk assessments and rolling stock purchase processes as a representative of the drivers. VR lets its personnel take part in decision-making, which is also required by law.
The management of psychosocial stress factors is part of the risk management of engine drivers. In the surveys, challenges related to shifts have been identifies as one of the biggest stress factors.
In cities with mostly passenger traffic, shifts can be more regular, but in freight traffic, regular shifts are not always possible.
The shift rhythm of an engine driver can focus on morning, weekday mornings or evenings, for example, but it is not really three-shift work. Trains are moving at each minute of the day, and there is always an engine driver starting their shift somewhere.
Shifts can be arranged in different ways in different locations, depending on whether the trains primarily carry passengers or freight. In cities with mostly passenger traffic, shifts can be more regular, but in freight traffic, regular shifts are not always possible.
the pursuit of efficiency should be proportionate to the coping of employees in safety critical work like this.
Engine drivers’ shifts are generated automatically by a shift planning information system. The employer VR enters certain requirements in the system in order to make the work smoother.
The efficiency measures taken in recent years brough negative changes in the shifts from the point of view of employees. Occupational wellbeing deteriorated and drivers felt exhausted by the irregular shift work, which had became more common. Sickness absences increased.
In order to stay alert in this demanding work, the rota should support recovery and a good work-life balance.
Recently, VR has started to understand the importance of shifts for the wellbeing of engine drivers and that the pursuit of efficiency should be proportionate to the coping of employees in safety critical work like this.
However, I also enjoy the quiet night shifts in the driver’s cabin, admiring the sunrise and the start of the new day.
Because of the shifts, finding the right work-life balance is still difficult for many. Nowadays, the employer is able to take the needs of individual drivers into account slightly better, for example, allocating weekday shifts to engine drivers with small kids so that they can spend time with their family.
I am currently working the weekday morning shift, which allows me to spend time with my family and hobbies in the evenings and on weekends. However, I also enjoy the quiet night shifts in the driver’s cabin, admiring the sunrise and the start of the new day.