One of the goals of our newsletter -- Straight Track -- is to keep railroaders informed of news and information on safety issues. With that in mind, we would like to share a portion of the July 2001 Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) publication, “An Examination of Railroad Yard Worker Safety”, which focuses on best practices for reducing injuries and improving safety on the rails.
If you come across any safety issues you believe would be beneficial to share with your fellow railroaders, please call Hoey & Farina with your suggestion or information at 1-888-425-1212.
8.3 Best Practices for Fostering a Positive Safety Climate and Reducing Injuries
Discussions with railroad officials during the site visits and focus group interviews with representatives of yard crafts highlighted aspects of individual railroad practices that fostered a positive safety climate and reduced the risk of worker injuries. The experience of both groups also suggested additional practices that would be enhancements to the safety climate and would likely prevent injuries. The following suggested best practices, based on the information gathered during the present study, are organized around major themes.
Equipment and Property
Provide adequate lighting for night work. A train’s headlamp and a handheld lantern or flashlight are insufficient.
Remove trash, debris, and other slip and trip hazards from the yard on a regular and frequent basis.
Keep equipment such as locomotives well-maintained.
Install ergonomic switch stands when replacing older manual switches. Railroads that have installed them reported reduced back injuries.
Use “walking” (i.e., ¾ in.) stone on switch leads and tow paths.
Select OJT mentors who are interested in training new hires and are effective trainers. Compensate mentors appropriately.
Combine classroom and hands-on practice during initial training. For procedural training it is easier to learn the procedure if demonstration and supervised practice immediately follow the classroom session on the topic.
Formally structure OJT using a checklist or other training aid.
If using CBT for rules training, provide a forum for employees to share information and experiences.
If in-house training resources are limited, explore training programs offered by local community colleges.
Problem Identification and Resolution
Offer several methods for reporting an unsafe condition. Some individuals will take the time to fill out a written report, some prefer to have their union representatives do the reporting for them while others may find a telephone message suitable.
One railroad that was visited had recently eliminated routine alcohol and drug testing following an injury. Unless there is a compelling reason to believe that the employee was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, this procedure may be unnecessary and may intimidate an employee. Elimination of the mandatory nature of alcohol and drug testing may increase or enhance employees’ trust.
An employee-empowered, voluntary, safety committee, with elected representatives from each yard craft, can be effective in identifying and resolving safety-related problems. Among other responsibilities, the committee should be sure to track the status of unsafe condition reports that are filed.
Incentives and Awards
Money is better spent on capital safety improvements (e.g. removing debris from the yard, oiling switches frequently) than on material incentives such as hats and coffee mugs.
Job briefings appear to be effective in reinforcing safe work procedures.
A behavior-based safety program may be effective in re-enforcing safety behaviors, but any such program must be accepted by employees.
Interaction with Employees
Create a supportive work environment. Based on the focus groups, it appears that harassment and intimidation are present in some railroad yard environments, and may lead to unsafe conditions and situations. According to focus group participants, harassment and intimidation result in: 1) less effective training; 2) underreporting of injuries and unsafe conditions; 3) under-maintained equipment and facilities; 4) fatigued employees; and 5) unsafe work practices (e.g., pressure to rush to get a job done). Railroads may want to examine the extent to which these feelings exist among their workers and take steps to create a more supportive work environment.
Foster crew teamwork: Based on participants’ responses, railroads appear to have a built-in teamwork structure within T&E crews. That is, yard workers, principally switchmen, conductors and engineers, on their own initiative, have developed a strong teamwork ethic. Co-worker cooperation and communication characterize this yard worker teamwork. Railroads have the opportunity to foster safety and productivity goals through this existing teamwork. Examples of areas where teamwork might foster safety and productivity include team training, enhanced communications, and coordination of switching activity.
Improve crew management. Several aspects of current T&E crew calling practices were a source of dissatisfaction to focus group participants, and could result in potentially unsafe conditions where employees are overworked and fatigued. The practices of other industries characterized by shift work and irregular schedules, both within the U.S. and abroad, might offer some examples for railroad management to consider. For some specific participant suggestions for improving crew management, see subsection 7.3.9.