In early 1998, a Federal task force was created to examine railroad switching fatalities. Coordinated by the FRA, this working group consisted of representatives from both rail labor and carrier industry management.

For 22 months they poured over data from the 76 switching deaths that occurred between 1992 and 1998, as well as reviewed the limited data collected from similar fatal events from 1975 – 1991. Every conceivable factor involving each member’s fatality was charted, analyzed and examined in this exhaustive effort to determine the factors that contributed to our deaths as railroad workers.

On October 28, 1999, the very first Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) report containing the Findings and Recommendations of this group was made public. Click here to view the first report.

This first SOFA report contained five major railroad operating recommendations designed to prevent critical injuries and fatalities among our craft, later titled the Five Lifesavers;” the very first recommendation – SOFA number 1 began with these two sentences:

Any crew member intending to foul track or equipment must notify the locomotive engineer before such action can take place. The locomotive engineer must then apply locomotive or train brakes, have the reverser centered, and then confirm this action with the individual on the ground.”  

Sound familiar?

Now, some members have reported that they have been told to go between rail cars without establishing any such protection (3-step, Red Zone, etc.) and that they would face discipline for delaying trains if they took the time to do so.
But it so happens that over the past two decades, some members also have been disciplined and terminated over alleged failures to obtain such protection when fouling tracks.
This chaos imposed upon a good portion of our membership affects all of us. Couple this with today’s prevailing political philosophy against the supposed evils of regulatory oversight of corporations, especially concerning industrial occupational safety, and we find that protecting ourselves on the job is up to us — now more than ever!
Further, it’s a pretty safe bet that all of us know someone who was injured or worse while railroading. We all understand the hazards associated with our line of work, and we are all familiar with the old saying “the rules are written in blood.” Contrast this with those reports mentioned above that exhibit a blatant intentional disregard of safe working procedures that have been browbeaten into our conscience from our first day in railroad training, and we have no choice but to lead.
Our union’s structure is built upon our ability to look out for each other, and each local has a legislative representative (LR) who is our first line of safety.
Legislative representatives were around long before the carriers started forming company-run safety committees.
We do not oppose these safety committees, and we do rely on the carriers to live up to their responsibility for safety. But remember: We are the leaders in safety — always have been, always will be!
Your Safety Task Force encourages and urges you to work through your local LRs to ensure unsafe conditions and practices are documented, reported and corrected. Email us any question, condition, unsafe trend etc., and we will work to find a resolution.

It is time to lead, 

SMART Rail Safety Task Force