September 2, 2014

Worker input crucial to reducing rail risks

If a congressionally ordered railroad risk reduction program is to be effective, the Federal Railroad Administration must include railroad employees and their labor unions in the process of evaluating and managing the program.

That is the message seven rail labor organizations sent to the FRA Feb. 8 in response to an earlier FRA notice of proposed rulemaking implementing a risk reduction program.

The program was ordered by Congress in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA). Its purpose is to reduce the consequences and rates of railroad accidents, incidents, injuries and fatalities.

The UTU was joined by the American Train Dispatchers Association, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, Brotherhood of Railway Carmen and Transport Workers Union in commenting to the FRA.

Congress specifically concluded that having railroads “unilaterally decide issues of safety would not be in the public interest,” the UTU and the other labor organizations told the FRA. Yet, the notice of proposed rulemaking “undermines” that congressional intent.

To ensure an effective risk reduction program, the FRA must solicit rail labor input and participation, said the labor organizations. Specific to train and engine workers, such participation must include:

  • Technology implementation.
  • Fatigue management.
  • Risks posed by joint operations, including passenger and commuter trains.
  • Security risks.
  • National Transportation Safety Board recommendations.
  • Disclosure of all carrier bonus, incentive and compensation systems that reward management employees for meeting or exceeding safety related goals, targets, benchmarks or milestones.
  • Disclosure of policies and data related to waiver and discipline practices that in any way discourage accurate reporting of accidents, incidents, injuries or close calls.

The labor organizations also asked the FRA to develop historical data on the following:

  • Number of disciplinary charges filed for rule violations.
  • Number of whistle-blower cases filed by employees.
  • Number of employee dismissals.
  • Number of FRA reportable injuries.
  • Number of meet and confer sessions related to safety.
  • Safety records of regional and shortline railroads.
  • Retaliation, intimidation and overall culture, attitude and policy toward safety reporting by employees.
  • Safety incentive programs and policies that create peer pressure within work groups not to report injuries in order to preserve incentive prizes.
  • A carrier’s past response to risk, hazards, defects, near misses and safety complaints reported by employees.
  • The effectiveness of operating rules and practices in risk reduction.
  • The effectiveness of safety and training programs.

Additionally, the labor organizations asked the FRA to “pay particular attention to railroads that regularly intimidate employees to cut corners [and] hold formal hearings and discipline employees whenever accidents or injuries are reported.”

The process for evaluating and managing a risk reduction program must also include direct employee input, said the labor organizations. “There is no substitute for interviewing employees actually doing the work,” and such interviews should mask the identity of employees to ensure “they may speak freely.”

Of special importance to train and engine workers is the implementation of a fatigue management plan. “A human being cannot possibly be rested to work safely unless that human being knows when they must report for service,” said the labor organizations. “Often, safety critical employees are forced to report for service even when fatigued, or [they] face disciplinary hearings and loss of employment.

“We encourage the FRA to take immediate action to require 10 hours of advance notification for all operating employees not otherwise on assignments with defined start times,” said the labor organizations.

To read the comments of the seven labor organizations, click here.

To read the FRA’s earlier notice of proposed rulemaking, click on the following link:

www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2010-12-08/pdf/2010-30836.pdf