Rail Casualties Spike in Winter, Union Warns

The latest Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis report, for example, shows December and January are high months for switching fatalities.

Risks in the railroad industry increase during winter months, as they do in the mining industry. The three winter months are when "a significant number of yard fatalities and career-ending injuries occur," according to the United Transportation Union, which represents about 125,000 active and retired railroad, bus, and mass transit workers. UTU participates in a Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) working group.

The latest Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis report shows December and January are high months for switching fatalities, and the time when most switching fatalities occur is the second hour on duty -- probably because job and safety briefings fill the first hour, so hour two is actually the first hour of work for employees.

Darkness, weather, and slippery ground conditions are factors. This winter, there is added concern because new and inexperienced workers have recently returned from furlough, according to the union.

SOFA offers these five lifesaving tips:

  • Secure all equipment before action is taken.
  • Protect employees against moving equipment.
  • Discuss safety at the beginning of a job or when work changes.
  • Communicate before action is taken.
  • Mentor less experienced employees to perform service safely.

The SOFA working group warns of these special switching hazards:

  • Close clearances
  • Shoving movements
  • Unsecured cars
  • Free-rolling rail cars
  • Exposure to mainline trains
  • Tripping, slipping, or falling
  • Unexpected movement of cars
  • Adverse environmental conditions
  • Equipment defects
  • Motor vehicles or loading devices
  • Drugs and alcohol

During the first nine months of 2010, the number of severe injuries in yard work increased to 47 from 40 in 2009, it says.

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