A paper trail leads to safety

March 11, 2008

By Mike Futhey
International President

We have been receiving numerous reports of members disciplined following an on-the-job injury. Too often, the injury was the result of a carrier’s failure to correct its own safety hazard or safety violation.

But if there is no paper trail of the safety hazard or carrier safety violation prior to the injury, the injured employee can end up becoming a victim for a second time through discipline.

How do you keep from becoming a victim twice? You write a detailed letter to the carrier describing every safety hazard and every violation of FRA safety regulations encountered – but you must also provide a copy of that letter to your local legislative representative and your state legislative director.

By so doing, you have created a paper trail, preventing the carrier from later disavowing knowledge of the safety hazard or safety violation.

Beyond protecting yourself against arbitrary carrier discipline following an injury, here are three other reasons why you should write that detailed letter:

  • The Federal Railroad Administration has a limited number of safety inspectors. They cannot, on their own, find every carrier safety violation. When state legislative directors receive copies of your letter to the carrier, they can refer those safety violations to the appropriate FRA official. By collecting those letters, state legislative directors can also identify multiple violations that should be reported to the national legislative office for handling at the highest levels of the FRA.
  • State legislative directors work with lawmakers at the state and federal level to craft legislation leading to new and improved safety regulations. In Illinois, for example, State Legislative Director Joe Szabo convinced the legislature to pass a rail-safety bill based on evidence presented by UTU members about safety hazards. The current federal rail safety bill being considered by Congress includes provisions that would not have been embraced by lawmakers were it not for written evidence provided by UTU members.
  • When employees are injured, and they seek recovery under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, it is not uncommon for the carrier to deny knowledge of the safety hazard or its own violation of safety regulations. But when local legislative representatives and state legislative directors can provide UTU Designated Legal Counsel with copies of such letters, your legal case is strengthened.

Simply calling a carrier’s safety hotline is not enough to protect you, your family or your brothers and sisters from carrier safety hazards and safety violations. Those telephone calls go only to the carrier, which may or may not correct the situation.

Only when your local legislative representative and state legislative director receive your letter can they help you take action to correct the problem and make the workplace safer. If you need help writing the letter, ask your local legislative representative or state legislative director for that help.

Don’t become a victim twice. Write that letter and make sure a copy goes to your local legislative representative and your state legislative director.