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Randy Appleton
Randy Appleton
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An Important Reminder on FELA and Locomotive Safety

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The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the United Transportation Union recently joined forces to provide comments to the Federal Railroad Administration in response to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking earlier this year that will address locomotive safety standards. Among the issues raised in the comments were improved seating for operators, climate controlled cabs, the installation of alerter systems, and more secure cab compartments.

Locomotive seats

Studies have showed that prolonged exposure to whole-body vibration contributes to cumulative injuries such as accelerated degenerative spinal diseases, back pain and back injuries. Proper seating in locomotives can make a significant difference in the occurrence and likelihood of these types of injuries, yet manufacturers continue to use seat designs that are inadequate, without regard for the safety or health of the crew. The unions appeal to the FRA to include specifications for locomotive seats, arguing that non-mandated action will not suffice.

Locomotive cab temperature

The comments also highlight the need to provide climate control—specifically, air conditioning—in locomotive cabs. The regulations should establish both minimum and maximum temperatures for occupied cabs. Working under extreme temperature conditions has a direct correlation to safety and human performance, influencing human response time, creating distraction, and hindering the physical manipulation of controls. For example, extreme cold can cause hypothermia and disorientation, which extreme heat can cause fatigue and lethargy, all of which raise safety concerns.

The unions suggest a regulation that would require newly purchased or reconstructed locomotives to be equipped with air conditioners and subject to both minimum and maximum acceptable temperatures.

Alerters

Worker fatigue continues to present safety issues for locomotive engineers who are expected to work long shifts. Thus, in order to prevent against accidents, there is a need for visual and audio alerters in locomotive cabs that operate when the train is traveling at low speeds. Since low speeds are generally required in situations where the risk of accident is increased, these alerters, which should be activated at random intervals, will mitigate the risks of accidents caused by operator inattention due to fatigue.

Secure cabs

In their comments, the unions highlight a need to provide for more secure locomotive cabs to protect against unauthorized access when the cab is occupied. This need stems from incidents in which crimes have been committed against locomotive engineers. The comments specifically cite the need for cab locking mechanisms, window glazing to protect against gunshots, and climate controlled cabs so that operators do not need to keep doors and windows open.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.