243 Oversight and 217 Operational Tests
While railroads can use their operational testing program for the required periodic oversight in 243, there are some differences you should be aware of.
What are the Periodic Oversight Requirements in Part 243?
As part of the program required in accordance with this part, an employer shall adopt and comply with a program to conduct periodic oversight tests and inspections to determine if safety-related railroad employees comply with Federal railroad safety laws, regulations, and orders particular to FRA-regulated personal and work group safety.
Document Your Program
For a railroad, this should not be difficult. Since railroads already have a documented program for operational testing. However, it is likely you will need to make minor revisions to your program to better align it with 243. However, this requirement also applies to contractors. I recommend contractors use a similar format as the 217 plan - but if they already have something in place, like a safety audit program, this often can be easily updated to align with 243.
Ensure You Have the Right Tests & Inspections
Periodic oversight in Part 243 is limited in scope to:
49 CFR Part 214, Railroad Workplace Safety
49 CFR Part 218, Railroad Operating Practices
49 CFR Part 220, Railroad Communications
However, unlike Part 217 operational tests, you will want to review your program to ensure it is covering all the observable employee behaviors found in 214, 218, and 220. For those of you who are ASLRRA members, I know work has already begun to review their templates and I don't think any action is required right now. For others, I recommend you review your on-the-job training checklists for 214, 218, and 220 to identify any gaps or needed tests/inspections for 243 periodic oversight. One gap you might find is a test on Roadway Maintenance Machine inspections in 214 Subpart D.
Finally, keep in mind that it is not required for employees covered by conductor certification (Part 242) and engineer certification (Part 240) to be covered by 243 oversight.
FRA requires records on 243 periodic oversight to be maintained for at least three years. This is different than Part 217 that only requires records to be maintained for one year.
Each employer that conducts periodic oversight must keep a record of each test. The record must include the following information:
Date, time, and location of the test or inspection
Result of the test or inspection
Each person administering tests and inspections
Each person tested.
The record must also indicate whether the employee complied with monitored duties, as well as any intervention used to remediate the noncompliance.
What About Contractors?
Contractors who are covered by Part 243 are also required to complete periodic oversight. FRA Guidance states:
Railroads are not required to conduct periodic oversight of a contractor’s employees when the contractor:
Employs more than 15 employees;
Directly trains its own employees for safety-related duties; and
Employs supervisors capable of periodic oversight.
If all three conditions are met, the contractor is obligated to provide oversight of its own employees.
However, it has been my experience that more often than not railroads contract this responsibility back to the contractor regardless of the number of employees the contractor has.
How is Periodic Oversight Different than On-the-Job Training (OJT)?
This is an important question. The biggest difference is timing and results if there is an exception.
Periodic oversight is a test/inspection on qualified employees to determine compliance to the rules - if there is an exception/failure of a test, the results could be punitive.
OJT is part of the training of unqualified employees and an exception/failure could be part of the normal learning process.
Read more about this topic here.
Further FRA Guidance
Excerpt from page 26 of the 243 Compliance Guide
Periodic oversight seeks to accomplish two goals:
Take notice of individual employees who are in noncompliance and take corrective action to ensure that those specific employees know how to do the work properly (in some instances, the employee might need coaching or retraining, especially if the person has not had much experience doing the work; in other instances, training may not be an issue and other remedial action may be appropriate); and
Review all of the oversight data, in the aggregate, to detect patterns of noncompliance.
The annual review in 49 CFR § 243.207 is intended to spur a global review of training and trigger adjustments that improve the effectiveness of training courses. Taken together, these oversight and review actions should lead to significant improvements in compliance and the overall quality of training programs. Recording oversight and identifying problem areas are intended to compel each employer to focus on how a training course can be improved to place greater emphasis on the causes of such noncompliance. The essence of oversight and annual reviews is to assess the effectiveness of training programs and make curriculum adjustments to initial or refresher training programs to focus on problem areas.
Railroads are not required to conduct periodic oversight on supervisors who are responsible for conducting oversight. However, FRA inspectors may conduct oversight of supervisors to assess their knowledge, skills, and abilities related to the tests required by 49 CFR § 243.205. This is analogous to the oversight FRA conducts per 49 CFR § 217.9. Railroads may combine the operational test program required by 49 CFR § 217.9 with 49 CFR § 243.205, but must notify FRA of that fact in their training program submission.
Are you still feeling stuck on your 243 training programs or not sure how to get started? We can help! We have helped Class 1, short line, and regional railroads, and contractors implement and manage the 243 requirements. Contact us at email@example.com