FRA warns of lapses in situational awareness

October 19, 2010

Citing a series of on-duty career ending injuries and fatalities over the past 24 months that occurred on or near mainline track, the Federal Railroad Administration has issued a safety advisory on the importance of situational awareness, especially when the job being performed in main track territory changes.

FRA Safety Advisory 2010-03 also includes recommendations to railroads “to ensure that these issues are addressed by appropriate policies and procedures.”

Among the recommendations is that railroads strengthen and expand to all employees, when on or near track, bans on the use of electronic devices. FRA Emergency Order 26 (soon to be made permanent) only restricts the use of cell phones and other electronic devices by on-duty train and engine workers.

Although the employees injured and killed while on or near mainline track “were all familiar with operating and safety rules,” said the FRA, “in each case, the employees’ situational awareness seems to have been degraded.” Therefore, said the FRA, “employee alertness to changing job situations could have been heightened in these situations by the act of engaging in additional job briefings.

“As the railroad industry is well aware, a job briefing should take place at the beginning of a task and anytime the task changes,” said the FRA. “Railroad operating rules and certain federal railroad safety regulations require that these job briefings take place. The job briefing can act, particularly when there is more than one person involved with the task, as a time out for the affected employees to reinforce the need to exercise vigilance and awareness in the performance of their tasks.”

Among the FRA’s recommendations to railroads:

  • Develop processes that promote safety mentoring of fellow workers regardless of their titles or positions.
  • Develop procedures that address the need for dialogue between coworkers when exiting equipment near tracks or moving equipment.
  • Review the current process for job briefings and determine best practices that encourage constant communication about activities at hand.
  • Assess current rules addressing personal safety and employee behavior when on or near tracks, with particular emphasis on main tracks.
  • Review current rules pertaining to activities that could cause employees to become distracted, including rules pertaining to the use of electronic devices, with the view of strengthening and expanding them to include all employees when they are on or near tracks.
  • Review current rules pertaining to sounding the locomotive horn, with the view of requiring the horn to be sounded when approaching and passing standing trains, especially at or near grade crossings, regardless of whether such crossings are located in quiet zones.

For more information on railroad safety, go to the UTU website at and click on “Transportation Safety” link.