Studies have linked injuries suffered by locomotive engineers and those who routinely ride within locomotive cabs to whole-body vibration exposure. A study in 2002 determined that long term vibration exposure posed a health and safety risk to engineers in the form of accelerated spinal degeneration, disk herniation and sciatica. Other studies have linked neck and shoulder injuries to long term exposure to the vibration produced by locomotives.
The Railroads have been aware of the health issues associated with vibration and poorly designed and maintained locomotive cab seats since 1972. In that year, a study entitled “Human Factors Survey of Locomotive Cabs” was released on behalf of the Federal Rail Administration (“FRA”). That study indicated that the seats being used in a number of locomotives cabs were insufficient and that major design changes were required to provide comfort and reduce fatigue. Concerning cab vibration, the report indicated “The conditions of vibration, to which the engineer is exposed, should be measured as a first step in surveying the environmental conditions in the cab.”
In 1995, the FRA issued a report entitled “Human Factors Guidelines for the Evaluation of the Locomotive Cab” that set-forth a laundry list of recommendations that would improve the design of locomotive cab seats. With regard to the issue of vibration, the report indicated as follows with regard to vibration “Muscles are used to overcome vibration effects on the body. This can produce fatigue and overuse syndromes, depending on the effort required and length of exposure.” Despite being aware of this information, the Railroads continued to use poorly designed and maintained seats in their locomotive cabs. The Railroads also failed to make any effort to test their locomotives for cab vibration. These failures have put their employees at an increased risk for the development of serious neck, back and shoulder injuries.
By Matt Darby