SOFA update: Postponing casualities does not prevent them

The Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) Working Group is once again reminding rail workers in yard and switching service to remain vigilant.

If crews work safely and avoid casualty in one year, by applying SOFA operating recommendations, then they must also work safely throughout their careers. Crews must always work safely because postponing casualty does not prevent casualty, according to the report.

The original SOFA Report was released in October 1999. Prior to the release, there were 47 switching fatalities related to the report's five operating recommendations in the 7.75-year period January 1992 through September 1999. Expressed as a rate, there were 6.07 switching fatalities per year related to operating recommendations. Slipping, tripping, stumbling, and losing balance were events associated with nearly half of the 1,380 severe injuries occurring from January 1, 1997 through December 31, 2007.

In 2008 year to date, there have been two fatalities. The first occurred on January 8 in Waukegan, Ill. A Union Pacific conductor, working a METRA commuter train, was struck by another METRA commuter train while he was stooped over the crossover switch connecting the two main tracks located just south of the passenger station. The second occurred on February 3 in Chicago. A brakeman, working between cars in his train, stepped out from between two cars and into the path of a main track Canadian National train that was passing the stopped NS train.

The SOFA Working Group makes the following recommendations:

Recommendation 1

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. Additionally, any crew member that intends to adjust knuckles/drawbars, or apply or remove EOT device, must insure that the cut of cars to be coupled into is separated by no less than 50 feet. Also, the person on the ground must physically inspect the cut of cars not attached to the locomotive to insure that they are completely stopped and, if necessary, a sufficient number of hand brakes must be applied to insure the cut of cars will not move.

Recommendation 2

When two or more train crews are simultaneously performing work in the same yard or industry tracks, extra precautions must be taken:

Recommendation 3

At the beginning of each tour of duty, all crew members will meet and discuss all safety matters and work to be accomplished. Additional briefings will be held any time work changes are made and when necessary to protect their safety during their performance of service.

Recommendation 4

When using radio communication, locomotive engineers must not begin any shove move without a specified distance from the person controlling the move. Strict compliance with "distance to go" communication must be maintained. When controlling train or engine movements, all crew members must communicate by hand signals or radio signals. A combination of hand and radio signals is prohibited. All crew members must confirm when the mode of communication changes.

Recommendation 5

Crew members with less than one year of service must pay special attention to safety awareness, service qualifications, on-the-job training, physical plant familiarity, and overall ability to perform service safely and efficiently. Programs such as peer review, mentoring and supervisory observation must be utilized to insure employees are able to perform service safely. ·


© 2008 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen