Rail Safety Alert #5: No mental vacations

December 16, 2009

The 24 days between Dec. 22 and Jan. 14 have proven the most deadly for railroad workers. More fatalities and career-ending injuries occur during this calendar period than any other.

With the holiday season upon us, we owe it to ourselves and our families to keep the season joyous and free from needless sorrow. Safety is a gift we keep giving our families.

Returning home to our families in one piece requires more than simply saying, “Be careful out there.”

Since 1998, the Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) working group — comprised of representatives from labor, management and the FRA — has devoted itself to bringing railroaders home to their families in one piece.

SOFA’s five lifesaving tips can save yours, as they have saved countless other railroaders from death and career-ending injuries:

  1. Secure all equipment before action is taken.
  2. Protect employees against moving equipment.
  3. Discuss safety at the beginning of a job or when work changes.
  4. Communicate before action is taken.
  5. Mentor less experienced employees to perform service safely.

The SOFA working group also warns of special switching hazards:

  • Close clearances
  • Shoving movements
  • Unsecured cars
  • Free rolling rail cars
  • Exposure to mainline trains
  • Tripping, slipping or falling
  • Unexpected movement of cars
  • Adverse environmental conditions
  • Equipment defects
  • Motor vehicles or loading devices
  • Drugs and alcohol

UTU members participating in the SOFA working group are Louisiana State Legislative Director Gary Devall, Minnesota State Legislative Director Phil Qualy and Kansas Assistant State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo.

In the 17 years since 1992, only four have been fatality free, and almost 12 percent of all on-duty employee fatalities have occurred during the 24 days between Dec. 22 and Jan. 14.

Staying vigilant and heightening your situational awareness — by following the SOFA working groups life-saving tips, by being aware of special switching hazards, and by encouraging increased communication among crew members, limiting task overload and focusing on the task at hand — is the most effective way to return home to your families in one piece.

And remember: almost as many injuries and deaths involve employees with many years of seniority as new hires.

Let’s not permit ourselves to drift into mental vacations. As the SOFA working group says, warnings “can be viewed as numbers on a page, but the loss of a railroad employee is real, and brings sadness to their family, co-employees and friends.”

The UTU Rail Safety Task Force extends a happy holiday greeting to all members and their families.

For more information on the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, and to communicate with the task force, click below:


In solidarity,

UTU Rail Safety Task Force

Greg Hynes, UTU Arizona state legislative director

Steve Evans, UTU Arkansas state legislative director

Jerry Gibson, UTU Michigan state legislative director