October 23, 2014

UTU seeks worker protection from hazmat

WASHINGTON — A doubling in the number of damaged or leaking hazardous materials containers shipped by rail has prompted the UTU and six other rail labor organizations to petition the Federal Railroad Administration for enhanced safety standards to protect rail workers and the public.

Rail labor is concerned that the FRA routinely grants special permission for railroads to transport damaged hazardous materials containers on mainline tracks to repair facilities.

In fact, the number of such requests has more than doubled since 2007, subjecting rail workers and the public to an unacceptable risk of exposure, the labor organizations told the FRA.

“Railroads and shippers must do more to reduce the incidence of non-conformance,” the organizations told the FRA.

Among changes sought by rail labor is advance notification to rail workers and necessary protection when workers are in the vicinity of damaged containers transporting hazmat.

Current federal regulations provide no requirement that safety devices be provided to protect rail workers from exposure to hazmat.

The labor organizations told the FRA that operating crews should be provided emergency escape breathing apparatus when involved in the movement of hazmat containers.

Although there have been no injuries or known exposures, the risk of employee exposure will only increase if the current rate of movement approvals continues, the FRA was told.

“Railroads and shippers have a business interest in timely review and approval of movement requests,” the labor unions told the FRA.

“As soon as the backlog impacts their bottom line, railroads and shippers will pressure FRA to accelerate the approval process. Such acceleration will undoubtedly diminish the level of detail and due diligence now afforded each request, resulting in an increased probability of unintended consequences such as fire, explosion or chemical exposure,” rail labor said.

In addition to the UTU, rail labor organizations jointly providing the comments to the FRA include the American Train Dispatchers Association, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, the Transport Workers Union, and the Transportation Communications Union.

Click here to read rail labor’s submission to the FRA.