FRA Advisory Reminds Workers, Railroads About Fall Protection

It was prompted by three incidents, including a September 2011 fatality in Havre de Grace, Md., as a team of workers replaced ties on a bridge over the Susquehanna River.

The Federal Railroad Administration has issued Safety Advisory 2011-03 to remind railroad bridge workers, railroads, and contractors or subcontractors about the dangers of walking on unsecured sections of walkway and platform gratings, especially without fall protection. A September 2011 fatal fall is among three incidents that prompted its release.

For more information, contact Ron Hynes, director of the Office of Safety Assurance and Compliance in the agencyh's Office of Railroad Safety, at 202-493-6404 or Carlo Patrick, staff director of the Rail and Infrastructure Integrity Division, at 202-493-6399.

In each of the three incidents, the bridge worker who fell was not using a personal fall arrest system and fell when stepping on an unsecured walkway or platform grating. "The responsible railroads, contractors, and subcontractors had also not erected a safety net system. Furthermore, in each instance, the unsecured grating is known or presumed to have flipped or tipped as it was found to have fallen along with the worker," FRA said in its Federal Register notice announcing the advisory. "By focusing attention on these accidents, FRA intends to raise awareness and hopefully prevent a continuing pattern of accidents involving similar circumstances," it stated.

The first of the three falls occurred in August 2008 in Vermillion, Ohio, and the second was in May 2011 in Minooka, Ill. The third, the fatality, occurred in Havre de Grace, Md., on Sept. 19, 2011 when a CSX Transportation, Inc. bridge worker fell approximately 75 feet from a bridge over Susquehanna River. The victim was part of a six-person crew replacing ties on the bridge. FRA, which continues to investigate the incident, said the victim stepped on the unsupported end of an unsecured, 7-foot section of steel walkway grating.

Generally, when bridge workers work 12 feet or more above the ground or water surface, FRA regulations require that a personal fall arrest system or safety net system be provided and used. Typical steel bridge walkway grating is supplied in 20-foot lengths with standard widths of 24, 30, or 36 inches. The grating weighs about 9 pounds per square foot. Where long bridge ties are used as outriggers to support the grating, even when one end is not fully supported and the grating has not been fastened down, there is sufficient weight behind the last supporting tie to more than counterbalance the weight of one person who steps on the part of grating that extends beyond the last support. But a hazard is created when shorter sections of grating are placed in such a manner that there may not be sufficient weight to counterbalance a person stepping on a cantilevered portion of grating that is not fastened to the bridge structure, said FRA, and this was what happened in all three incidents.

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