Rail yards of both passenger and freight carriers are riddled with hazards for workers.
From debris, to crumbling walkways, to poorly lit bridges and outmoded tools, rail workers face dangers everyday. Here are the photos to prove it. Seem familiar?
Yet the only thing that makes the news is when the lives of passengers are threatened, like in the Valhalla crossing accident. Of course the safety of passengers and pedestrians is critical.
But the workers?
Their safety and rights aren't even a part of the story.
Employees contact me all the time with questions about their rights, the answers to which I thought were common knowlege, like, Can my boss come into my hospital room?. Or will the railroad pay for my injury if it's my fault?
Besides answering their questions individually, which I'm happy to do, there wasn’t one place to look for the answers to these questions so I wrote this list, The 10 Rights of Railroad Workers
I hope it will arm you if and when you are caught in a dangerous situation on the job.
1. Right to Report Accident or Injury
Don’t let anyone tell you not to report an accident or injury in order to protect safety records. Federal Regulations require the reporting of any employee injury that requires medical treatment or results in any lost time or restricted duty. 45 USC §38-43, 49 CFR §225.1-31 Read a case study of a worker injured on the job that led to a $3.75 million verdict.
2. Right to Refuse to Work When Confronted by Hazardous Condition
The refusal must be made in good faith with no reasonable alternative. The condition must present imminent danger of death or serious injury with insufficient time to eliminate the danger through usual methods. 45 USC §§441(b) and (c). Here's what can happen when your carrier forces you to work in a hazardous condition.
3. Right to See Your Own Doctors for Medical Care
The company doctors are protecting the company’s best interest. Anything you say to them, can and will be used against you by the company in a disciplinary or civil trial. You should trust only the doctors you have selected. (If you see a doctor for an injury, make sure he understands that you aren't covered by workers' comp.)
4. Right to an Attorney
You should consult with an attorney as soon after an injury as possible. The company has attorneys and trained claim agents who are paid to protect the company’s interest. Evidence and statements need to be preserved to protect your claim. Click here for an article about attorney's to watch out for.
5. Right to Volunteer Information
You have the right to speak to and give statements to a co-worker and his lawyer, who are investigating an on-the-job injury. It is a federal crime to interfere with this right. 45 USC §60, 49 CFR §20109
6. Right to Sue the Railroad for Money Damages
You are not covered by Workers’ Compensation. Congress gave rail workers the right to sue their employer if they are injured, in whole or in part, by reason of the negligence of the carrier, its agents or fellow employees. 45 USC §51
7. Right to Have FRA Regulations Enforced
A rail carrier may not discharge or, in any manner, discriminate against an employee who has filed a Complaint or testifies to any violation of a Federal Railroad Safety Law. Secretary of Transportation may not disclose the name of any whistle-blowing employee. 45 USC §§441(a)(c) and (f)
8. Right to Have OSHA Regulations EnforcedThe OSHA Regulations cover rail workers when another Federal Agency like FRA have not exercised authority over the particular work condition like personal protective equipment, hazardous materials, hearing loss, welding and lead exposures.
29 CFR §1910
9. Right to Fall Protection While Working on Railroad Bridges
Workers are entitled to personal fall arrest systems or safety net systems if they are working on a bridge over water or at least 12 feet above ground, under most conditions. 49 CFR §214
10. Right to Protection From Moving Trains
The Roadway Workers Safety Act provides special procedures and protections for roadway workers who work alone and with groups to prevent personal injuries or death from moving trains.
If you get hurt on the job you'll need to file a claim with your carrier. The center of that claim will be your lost wages. Use the wage loss calculator here to keep track of your time out of work and the lost wages you're owed.
This blog was originally published in January 2014 but has been updated and refreshed.
Thanks to Roy Luck, a professional geologist in oil and gas industry, for this photo of BNSF oil train at Essex, MT where empties are headed back to North Dakota for more Bakken crude.