Recognizing that railroad maintenance workers require more protection from on-the-job accidents that cause serious injuries and deaths, federal regulators on September 24, 2014, issued a report calling for better supervisory practices and greater coordination of national rules regarding unacceptable workplace risks.
Having spent nearly 30 years as a Carolina personal injury and wrongful death attorney representing rail employees who got hurt or killed while working in rail yards, on rights-of-way and train bridges, I welcome these long-overdue actions being led by the National Transportation Safety Board. The most significant recommendations from the agency are to make workplace rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard for all rail maintenance workers and to ensure that pre-work safety briefings provide all the information employees need to avoid dangers to life and limb.
NTSB officials realized working conditions for individuals who maintain tracks and roadways were becoming less and less safe. Fatal preventable accidents ranging from train collisions to crushings, falls and electrocutions rose to 11 during 2013 after standing at just 5 in 2006. Importantly, the agency also strongly stated that on-the-job dangers differ for people who work outside trains, writing:
Railroad and rail transit roadway workers are subject to on-the-job risks and hazards markedly different from those faced by other railroad employees. The jobs of railroad engineers and conductors include risks primarily related to moving trains — derailments, collisions with other trains; the jobs of roadway workers involve hazards that include moving rolling stock and other equipment and vehicles, as well as falls, electrocution, and natural hazards.
No timeline for coordinating the existing less-comprehensive regulations enforced by offices like the Federal Railroad Administration with OSHA rules has been set. The sooner regulators act, however, the better working conditions for rail maintenance employees will become.
Keeping tracks, rail beds and rights-of-way in proper repair can never be done without some risk. All physical labor and construction work puts people at danger, and trains are simply too large and powerful to ever be rendered completely safe. But anyone maintaining tracks for Amtrak, CSX, the DC Metro, Norfolk Southern or any other rail company deserve to operate within a regulatory system and in workplaces designed to keep them as healthy and safe as humanly possible.