Fall Brings Higher Risk for Mine, Rail Workers

Two federal agencies warn workers in these sectors to be especially careful in October and during the winter months.

Fatal injuries to maintenance-of-way rail workers and signalmen are higher in the fourth quarter than any other time of the year, analysis of 21 years' worth of data shows. The Federal Railroad Administration's FAMES Fourth Quarter Safety Alert -– FAMES is the acronym for Fatality Analysis of Maintenance-of-way Employees and Signalmen –- reviews fatalities during 1986-1994 and also 1997-2010, reporting 34.8 percent of deaths during the first period and 41 percent during the second period occurred in October through December.

"Although the FAMES Committee has not been able to determine the reasons for the historical 4th Quarter spike in roadway workers fatalities, the evidence is undeniable and alarming," the alert states.

Mining sees a similar pattern. MSHA typically issues winter alerts; its October Fatal Alert reports metal and nonmetal mining had more fatal accidents in October than any other month during the past 12 years.

Both agencies urge workers to follow best practices for safety during this higher-risk period. MSHA's concern mobile equipment in particular, such as having operators wear seat belts and sound audible warnings before moving a piece of equipment, as well as wearing fall protection and following lockout/tagout best practices. The FAMES report asks workers to be "hyper-vigilant with regard to the application of on-track safety protection."

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