In recent years, new business models have made railroad companies even more profit-driven. According to employees and their advocates, railroads are trying to support their bottom-line partly by cutting back on staffing, training, inspections and equipment maintenance crucial to worker safety.
As railroads are using increasingly advanced technology, the public should see injuries and fatalities dropping significantly more than they have been. One union president told Congress that “amputations are still occurring and workers are still becoming disabled with frightening regularity.”
A lack of investigatory resources and authority by the federal government
According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), (when based on the number of miles traveled) the accident rate and the rate of railway yard accidents have been increasing. Further, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), many of the safety issues it’s found are “100 percent preventable.” It doesn’t help that the NTSB only has the resources to investigate about 1% of rail accidents – typically major derailments and crashes. Further, the agency has no authority to mandate changes.
Why railroads try to blame workers for their injuries
Because the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) has created a fault-based system, railroads often find a way to blame their employees rather than their own inattention to safety issues for employee injuries so that they don’t have to pay them. That means injured employees and surviving loved ones of those killed must take legal action against the railroad to get compensation. Oftentimes, those cases are settled out of court, but only if the plaintiff signs a non-disclosure or non-disparagement agreement that keeps safety issues and injury rates under the radar.
Many employees are discouraged from reporting injuries. Those who do are often penalized. One lawsuit filed by an injured conductor said, “Employees who refuse to compromise their safety often find themselves terminated, which the railroad accomplishes by disparately applying their vague and voluminous workplace rules.” A former Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) official in the Obama administration says railroads are known for retaliating against employees who report injuries. “Punishing workers for reporting injuries is not uncommon. But it’s illegal.”
Railroad employees who are injured and surviving relatives of those killed due to safety, equipment and other issues through no fault of their own have a right to seek fair compensation. Having sound, experienced legal guidance can help these individuals get the justice that they deserve.