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.