Several weeks ago, I posted a blog entry regarding Railroaders and the development of lower extremity repetitive trauma injuries. Today, I am going to explore the issue of why a Railroad might be liable for such an injury.
Improper Ballast/ Yard Maintenance
As indicated in my earlier post, one of the risk factors for the development of knee osteoarthritis is walking on uneven surfaces. Railroaders routinely walk long distances across ballast, sometimes several miles or more a day. While most Railroads have regulations that require that the ballast placed in rail yards be one inch in diameter or smaller (“walking stone”), this is often not done. Rail yards commonly have large, mainline ballast covering the walkways and other locations where Railroaders work. Anyone who routinely walks on this type of rock can attest to its instability. In addition to not providing the proper size ballast in its rail yard, Railroads frequently fail to properly maintain those areas. Failure to maintain a compacted and level walking area that is free from debris can also lead to the development of lower extremity injuries. A Railroad’s failure to use walking stone in its rail yards and properly maintain working areas can be considered its failure under the FELA to provide a reasonably safe place to work.
Lack of Ergonomics Program
Also, as indicated in my earlier post, some of the other risk factors for the development of knee osteoarthritis include repeatedly bending and stooping and working in awkward positions. Railroaders routinely bend and stoop when climbing rail cars, throwing switches and connecting air hoses. These tasks are done on a repetitive basis, sometimes hundreds of times a day. Part of providing a Railroader with reasonably safe place to work is Railroad’s obligation to have in place an ergonomics program to detect and prevent injuries caused by this repetitive work. This can be done by engaging in worksite analysis to detect the ergonomic risk factors for the development of lower extremity injuries and the subsequent modification of job tasks to reduce or eliminate those risk factors. In addition, it is necessary for a Railroad to engage in medical management so that repetitive trauma injuries can be detected. This enables to Railroad to determine the extent of a problem and also allows the Railroader to seek early medical intervention so that a potential injury can be prevented. Finally, there should be training and education on the part of the Railroad so that its workers can protect themselves from exposure to ergonomic risk factors. Despite the fact that Railroads have been aware for years that having a comprehensive ergonomics program in necessary to provide its employees with a reasonably safe place to work, they have failed to implement such programs.
Please contact your United Transportation Union Designated Legal Counsel Matt Darby at 800-248-FELA or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
By Matt Darby