Saving your life, limbs and career

March 21, 2011

Imagine baseball without rules against bean balls, football without helmets or rules against clipping, roadways without stop signs, and cars without seat belts.

Rules have a purpose. On railroads the rules — developed over more than a century-and-a-half — are to save lives and limbs and keep trains running without incident.

There is no more dangerous civilian occupation than working in a railroad switching yard, where accidents too often kill, maim and end careers.

Yard safety also requires situational awareness, which is a state of mind coupled with teamwork, communication and uninterrupted attention to the task at hand.

Eight switching fatalities and 63 career-ending injuries — seven involving amputations — occurred in rail yards during 2010. Already in 2011, there has been one switching fatality.

To combat yard fatalities and career-ending injuries, the Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) Working Group was formed in 1998.

It is a peer review group comprised of representatives from labor, management and the Federal Railroad Administration — all collaborating to bring railroaders home in one piece.

SOFA’s five lifesaving tips that can save yours:

  • Secure all equipment before action is taken.
  • Protect employees against moving equipment.
  • Discuss safety at the beginning of a job or when work changes.
  • Communicate before action is taken.
  • 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

Going home in one piece requires situational awareness.

The SOFA Working Group’s lifesaving tips are proven to reduce your risk of a career-ending injury or death while on the job.

To view the most recent SOFA Working Group report, which includes five new advisories related to inexperienced employees, close clearances, industrial track hazards, job briefings and mainline train hazards, click here.