Switching fatalities reach crisis proportions in U.S.
Fatalities caused by railroad switching operations have reached "crisis" proportions in the United States, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers is helping to spearhead a safety campaign with government regulators and industry leaders to save lives.
In the first 10 months of this year, 10 fatalities have occurred in switching operations. From January of 1992 to July of 1998 -- a period of 79 months -- there were 76 employee fatalities in switching operations, an average of nearly one per month.
The Federal Railroad Administration issued a joint declaration in September which states in part, "We, as a Railroad Community, will initiate an unprecedented sustained safety campaign on the crisis situation responsible for causing deaths and injuries that occur during switching operations."
The declaration was supported by the BLE, United Transportation Union, the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association. These organizations comprise the Switching Operations Fatality Analysis Working Group -- or SOFA. The group was originally formed in February of 1998 at the request of FRA to review switching operations accident reports and to develop recommendations for reducing fatalities and injuries.
The SOFA Group has spent the last two years studying dozens of switching accident case files. This information was used to develop a comprehensive database of standardized information, known as the "SOFA Matrix." The Matrix was used to identify trends or patterns in the accidents to provide a better understanding of the fatalities. The SOFA Matrix became the foundation for the group's recommendations to reduce switching fatalities and injuries, which are known as the "Five SOFA Lifesavers."
The SOFA Lifesavers are a major part of the joint FRA-Labor-Management campaign to reduce the number of switching fatalities.
The Declaration, issued by FRA Administrator Jolene Molitoris, reads as follows:
"We, as a Railroad Community, will initiate an unprecedented sustained safety campaign on the crisis situation responsible for causing deaths and injuries that occur during switching operations. This underscores our commitment to zero tolerance.
"Our campaign will include:
- "An immediate assessment of the switching operations environment and its risks through increased observations and audits with participation by labor, management and FRA.
- "Increased commitment by managers and employees to communicate the message and instill the sense of urgency for change.
- "A defined plan to address safety risks built on the Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) report and the 'Five SOFA Lifesavers.'
- "Direct communication to all employees and their families outlining the crisis and asking for their help in correcting the problem to eliminate these deaths and injuries.
"We will work together to protect the lives and well-being of each of our co-workers. We know that many of the risks responsible for deaths and injuries are imbedded in the culture of our railroad industry. We must change our culture to eliminate fatalities and injuries. We are absolutely dedicated and committed to this effort."
The plan will be put into action soon. The FRA has ordered all carriers to issue a SOFA action plan at a special meeting of the Rail Safety Advisory Committee on November 14.
BLE President Edward Dubroski recognized the four BLE members who are part of the SOFA Working Group for their studious efforts in this noble cause.
They are Texas State Legislative Board Chairman Raymond Holmes; Colorado
State Legislative Board Chairman George J. Last; Minnesota State Legislative
Board Chairman Thomas J. Perkovich; and Regulatory Research Coordinator
Robert A. Harvey of the BLE's National Legislative Office.
© 2000 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers