A look at railroad worker safety

At a glance:

  • 232,500 employees
  • Better than average Total and DART rates
  • Higher than average Fatal Injury Rate
  • Longer than average median time out per injury
  • At least 52,550 workdays lost in 2011 from 2,900 injuries

Line-haul railroads (NAICS 482111) are primarily engaged in operating railroads for the transport of passengers and/or cargo over a long distance within a rail network. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), regulates most railroad activities ranging from movement of hazardous materials to track maintenance to accident and employee fatality investigations. BLS reported no 2011 data for the railroad worker population, but the 456 million Total Hours Worked from the Fatal Injury Rate (FIR) report equates to 232,500 full-time employees (at BLS standard 2,000 hours each).

Of 116 railroad inspections OSHA conducted in the last five years, just under half (60) were due to employee complaints. Fed-OSHA performed 50 of the inspections with the balance spread across various state programs. The standards most commonly cited by fed-OSHA in 2012 were guarding of floor and wall openings, powered industrial trucks and PPE. State citations varied widely and included respiratory protection, electrical, HAZWOPER, spray finishing using flammable materials, LOTO, General Duty, guarding and portable ladders.

For 2011 (the most recent data available), railroads reported Total and DART incidence rates of 1.9 and 1.4 respectively per 100 workers, both well below the U.S. private industry average rates of 3.5 and 1.8. However, their 22 employee fatalities yield a Fatal Injury Rate of 9.5 per 100,000 workers – nearly triple the U.S. average (3.5).

More than half of the 2,900 lost-time injuries reported in 2011 by the railroad sector were slips/trips/falls leading to sprains/strains/tears of backs and knees occurring most frequently on Tuesday between 0801 and noon. The most common source of injury was “other” (non-classified) but not vehicles, machinery, walkways or similar. Length of service with the employer and gender of injured employees were not reported.

Using the minimum number of Days-Away reported in each range, railroads lost at least 52,550 workdays from their 2,900 injuries. The median number of days away from work per injury was a relatively high 25 versus the private industry average of eight days, and 45.5% of their lost-times were out for 31 days or more verses the private industry average (27.9%).

Considering the mobile and often unforgiving nature of the work environment, railroads have clearly done good work toward employee safety. However, fatalities and days lost to injury remain significant issues for this sector. Consistently posting better-than-average injury rates is not the whole story, demonstrating that there is still plenty of room for improvement.

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