As president of the SMART Transportation Division and on behalf of General President Joseph Sellers, I want to wish every member happy holidays. We are all one family, and this season is a time when we have our loved ones in our thoughts and on our minds. As your president, your well-being, safety and job security are always on my mind, and I take those responsibilities seriously. Please know that I strive daily to make a difference in protecting you both on and off the job.
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 give our families each and every day, and nothing should be more important.
The twenty-four days between Dec. 22 and Jan. 14 have historically proven to be the deadliest for railroad workers. More fatalities and career-ending injuries occur during this calendar period than any other. Unfortunately, this rang true in 2018, when member Jeffery Hague of Local 495 lost his life on Dec. 30, 2018.
Regrettably, we have had a sixty-six (66%) percent increase in switching fatalities in 2019 compared to 2018. These include members Travis “Bowie” Andrepont of Local 1947, Chris Seidl of Local 1227 and most recently Curtis C. “C.C.” McConihay of Local 1386. All lost during rail switching operations. Sadly, all of our fallen members families will never feel the same joy of this season again.
Making a difference in your safety as a bus operator or a railroader has to start with both you and I, as it will take all of us actively working together in this union to succeed. We are already moving forward with plans to change how we all work together on safety-related issues, including the reporting of unsafe conditions, training, and the prevention of injuries.
However, it is imperative that we hear from members in the field about unsafe conditions, be it bus or rail, so we know where to deploy our own investigators and experts to help.
The SMART-TD website will be going through a series of updates in the near future. We will be updating our successful technology failure report and deploying an online unsafe condition and close-call report along with a few others to get you and our office connected on these issues. This will be explained in more detail in a forthcoming announcement.
As a reminder, I have listed the five life-saving tips that the Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) working group — comprised of representatives from labor, management and the FRA — have promoted in efforts to bring railroaders home safely to their families. With the recent rollout of Precision Scheduled Railroading, and productivity and profits placed directly ahead of employee safety, it is my belief that the focus on these life-saving rules and practices has been lost from a management standpoint. Therefore, I would ask that you take time to review them now and incorporate them into your daily work routine, especially in this most-dangerous season.
SOFA’s five life-saving 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 warned 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

On behalf of all your international officers, I once again wish you a blessed, safe and happy holiday season.

President, Transportation Division

SOFA LogoThe upcoming months are historically the most deadly time of year for railroad workers, with more career-ending injuries than any other period of the year.

In February 1998, a Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) working group, with representatives from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), labor and management, was formed at the request of the FRA to review employee fatalities and to develop recommendations for reducing fatalities in switching operations.

It is a voluntary, non-regulatory, workplace-safety partnership that looks for commonalities among the fatalities that occur during switching operations.

SOFA consultant Dr. David Skinner, who has been a part of working group since its inception, has compiled a summary notice to both railroads and rail crews currently experiencing winter-related conditions. The notice can be viewed here.

As the onset of winter is upon us, please take note of the following safety measures to help avoid a career-ending injury or loss of life during the winter months:

  • Be sure winter clothing does not restrict movement, or degrade hearing and vision.
  • Identify any winter-related conditions affecting safety. For example, ice can cause derailments. Ice, snow and mud can cause falling. Snow can muffle sound and reduce visibility.
  • Adjust productivity expectations based on darkness and weather.
  • Discuss winter conditions in safety briefings and post any weather-related concerns on bulletin boards.
  • Do not lose situational awareness, no matter the other circumstances in your family or personal life.

Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy (650) and Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo (1503) represent the SMART Transportation Division in the SOFA group.

“Please review the bulletin from Dr. Skinner and share that information with your fellow employees. It’s all about worker safety. The goal of SOFA is zero railroad fatalities,” Qualy said.

As always, keep in mind SOFA’s recommended five life-savers:

  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.