Railroad workers have unique skills and talents that come with working on the nation’s rail system in a tradition that has been respected and revered here in the United States for many years. Working on the railroad comes with special duties and abilities – and special kinds of danger.
It’s dangerous, hard work to be a railroader employed by an American railroad today. For more on the dangers that face railroad workers here in Illinois and Indiana, read our post from last year, “ How Dangerous Is It To Be A Railroad Worker In Indiana or Illinois Today?”
And things are not getting any safer for railroad workers here. Recent changes by one major railroad company here are raising lots of safety concerns for its railroad workers:
1. CSX Railroad Company in Indiana and Illinois
CSX is a railroad company that has been operating in the U.S.A. since long before the Civil War (it was founded in 1827). Today, CSX proudly reports that its rails move through 23 states (as well as parts of Canada and the District of Columbia). From the CSX website: “Our network connects every major metropolitan area in the eastern United States.”
In Illinois, CSX has 1400 miles of track, moving over 2.5 Million freight cars through the state. CSX has over 880 railroad crossings in Illinois (public and private grade). And CSX has over 980 railroad employees in the State of Illinois (as of 2015).
In Indiana, CSX has 2600 miles of track, moving over 2.9 Million freight cars through Indiana. CSX has over 2230 railroad crossings here (public and private grade). CSX employs over 1700 Hoosiers (as of 2015).
2. CSX Lessens Its Safety Operations
So, it’s big news when CSX decided it was no longer going to be paying for its railroad workers to have safety boots or high-visibility clothing.
The decision was revealed in a news story by a local news station based upon an internal CSX document that the reporter discovered. For details, read “CSX no longer funding certain safety equipment for railroad workers,” by Kevin Clark and published by ActionNewsJax on August 2, 2017.
This news story is on the heels of an earlier report from the same news station that CSX was also stopping the use of the brake stick and the “three-step rule.”
Outcry of Concern Over Safety Changes
Workers at CSX are voicing their concerns. These railroad workers are worried that people are going to be seriously hurt or killed because of safety changes at CSX. And they aren’t the only ones.
Over at Railway Age, its editor in chief, William C. Vantuono, asks “What’s going on at CSX?” In this July 2017 op-ed, the editor lists all sorts of things he is hearing about safety concerns at CSX, from all sorts of workers, employees, and railroaders in the know about CSX operations.
3. CSX Safety Changes Increase the Danger to Railroad Workers
These aren’t novel or unnecessary safety precautions that CSX is discontinuing. These are basic safety protections, some that have been traditionally used by railroads for decades.
- Safety Boots
Railroad workers are required to wear a special kind of footwear according to federal regulations propounded by OSHA and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). See FRA Section 214.115.
These Safety Boots include steel toes and they are very expensive. The Union Pacific Railroad Safety Boot line with Red Wing Shoes, for example, offers a variety of Railroad Worker Safety Boots that cost between $150.00 and $300.00 a pair. Many rail companies cover the cost of this safety equipment (at least in part).
- High-Visibility Clothing
It’s obvious that railroad workers need to be easily identified as they are on the job. This is true not only for the danger of being around fast-moving engines and trains, but also from other traffic and dangers that surround rails in Indiana and Illinois.
High-visibility clothing includes things like reflective vests and hard hats.
CSX’s own safety rules require that “[a]ll personnel must wear proper Personal Protection Equipment, which includes a minimum of hard hat, safety glasses, steel-toed shoes, hearing protection, and high-visibility vests with reflective stripes on or around road crossings. If not wearing orange hard hats, personnel must also wear high-visibility vests regardless of location. When working beyond 25 feet from the nearest rail of a main track, hard hats, safety glasses, and laced work boots will be required.”
Remember, the high-visibility clothing will still be required by CSX, the company just decided to stop helping its workers pay for this stuff.
- Brake Stick
The brake stick is a tool that a railroad worker carries with him or her. It is used to operate the brakes on the train by hand. These are very important safety devices, because they allow the worker to stop or slow the train manually and without having to climb the train car or to cross from one rail car to another in order to operate the car’s brake. They have been around for over 150 years.
As Pitbull (a company that sells brake sticks to rail workers) explains: “[R]ailroad brake tools were developed to permit an operator to set or release a handbrake without having to either climb the equipment or cross between cars. In other words, the crewman can operate the handbrake while standing on the ground without stepping in the gauge of the railroad tracks and without going between cars.”
- Three-Step Rule
When a railroad worker is on the job near a train, or between or under the train’s cars, the engineer traditionally follows a three-step rule or procedure for safety (here, as defined by CSX):
The three step rule: “will require the locomotive engineer to apply the train brakes, place the reverser in neutral position, and open generator field switch.”
The three step procedure protects the worker who may be found underneath a rail car, or dangerously near the train in other ways which would pose serious risk to that worker should the train move or shift. The protection protocol provides three different precautions to make sure that the worker is safe from that train moving while he is on the job.
Railroad Workers Hurt or Killed on the Job
Any employee of a railroad company in the United States who is seriously injured or killed while working on the job must pursue justice under the procedures outlined in the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).
The injured railroader has the burden of proof to show that the company failed to provide him or her with a reasonably safe place to work, and this failure caused the accident and injury.
Are these actions by CSX irresponsible, caused by putting profits over people? Maybe so. The sad truth is that this question will likely be answered in an injury claim after a railroad worker has been severely injured or killed and is forced to seek justice under FELA.
Another sad truth: this isn’t the only new development that exposes railroad workers in Indiana and Illinois to greater danger (as well as the general public). More about that in our next post. Be careful out there!