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DuraLabel's Weekly Safety News

Blog Author Angelique Sanders

Weekly safety news. Stay in touch with regulations from OSHA, NFPA, and other safety codes. Find out about other companies' best and worst practices. We scour the internet to provide you with helpful training resources and the latest safety information.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Railroads Lose More Whistleblower Cases - Clobbered With $1.4 Million In Fines

The following two reports are from OSHA press releases.

Union Pacific train in Columbia River Gorge.
Photo by: Bruce Fingerhood
Union Pacific Railroad has been ordered by OSHA to pay more than $309,000 for violating the Federal Railroad Safety Act. This order is OSHA's third in 13 months against railroad's Pocatello, Idaho, operations.

OSHA found that the Union Pacific Railroad violated the whistle-blower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act and has ordered the railroad to pay more than $309,000 in back wages, benefits, damages and reasonable attorney's fees to a conductor after determining retaliation for reporting a co-worker's work-related injury.

OSHA determined that Union Pacific Railroad retaliated against a locomotive conductor who reported a work-related injury suffered by a train engineer while they were both traveling between Idaho and Wyoming on July 24, 2009. The injury occurred when the train engineer banged his elbow against a steel armrest that was missing padding. The conductor notified his employer that the armrest was defective and that its hazardous condition caused a fellow employee to be injured. The railroad fired the conductor.

OSHA's investigation found that the conductor was terminated for reporting a work-related injury. The agency has ordered the railroad to pay $150,000 in punitive damages, $87,599 in compensatory damages for emotional distress, $71,708 in back pay with interest and reasonable attorney's fees to the conductor. Additionally, the railroad was ordered to post a notice to employees about whistle-blower rights.

The Omaha, Neb.-based railroad operates in 23 states and employs more than 40,000 workers nationwide, including an estimated 900 at the Pocatello facility.



Norfolk Southern Railway Co. has been ordered to pay $1,121,099 to three workers following an investigation by OSHA, which found that the company violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act. 

Two investigations, conducted by OSHA staff in Chicago and Pittsburgh, found that three employees were wrongfully fired for reporting workplace injuries. In addition to monetary remedies, the company has been ordered to expunge the disciplinary records of the three whistleblowers, post a notice regarding employees' whistleblower protection rights under the FRSA and train workers on these rights.

Railroad carriers are subject to the FRSA, which protects employees who report violations of any federal law, rule or regulation relating to railroad safety or security, or who engage in other protected activities.

One investigation involved a crane operator based in Fort Wayne, Ind., who was removed from service after reporting an eye injury requiring the extraction of a sliver of metal and rust ring from his eye. The injury occurred while he was operating a crane in support of a bridge-building operation. The employee was taken out of service and formally terminated on Aug. 24, 2010, after an internal investigation determined he had made false statements concerning the injury.

OSHA's investigation concluded that the worker would not have been terminated if he had not reported the injury. The agency has ordered the railroad to pay him a total of $437,591.70 in damages, which includes $100,000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering, $175,000 in punitive damages, and $156,518.94 in back wages and benefits. It also includes compensation of $6,072.76 to the crane operator for penalties incurred when he had to cash in savings bonds prior to their maturity date after being terminated.

In addition to damages, the company has been ordered to pay reasonable attorney fees. Further, OSHA has ordered the railroad to reinstate the worker to the proper seniority level, with vacation and sick days that he would otherwise have earned.

OSHA's second investigation involved a thermite welder and a welder's helper based in western Pennsylvania. Both employees had worked at the railroad for more than 36 years without incident when they reported injuries sustained as a result of an accident caused by another vehicle that ran a red light and hit a second vehicle, which in turn collided with the company truck in which they were riding.

The employees initially reported minor shoulder area pain plus some stiffness and soreness. Later, when questioned by management, they initially declined medical treatment, but as the pain increased, sought and received treatment at a local hospital. They were then taken out of service pending an investigative hearing and formally terminated. Management concluded that the employees' reports about their condition were false and conflicting and constituted misconduct.

OSHA's investigation found that the employees were terminated for reporting injuries to management. The agency has ordered the railroad to pay them $683,508 in damages, including $300,000 in punitive damages; $233,508 in lost wages, benefits and out-of-pocket costs; and $150,000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering. Interest on back pay due will accrue daily until the employees are paid. In addition to damages, the company has been ordered to pay reasonable attorney fees.

These actions follow several other orders issued by OSHA against Norfolk Southern Railway in the past two years. OSHA's investigations have found that the company continues to retaliate against employees for reporting work-related injuries, and these actions have effectively created a chilling effect in the railroad industry.

Norfolk Southern Railway Co. is a major transporter/hauler of coal and other commodities, serving every major container port in the eastern United States with connections to western carriers. Its headquarters are in Norfolk, Va., and it employs more than 30,000 union workers worldwide.

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posted by Steve Hudgik
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