(See Fear Factor I and Fear Factor III)
For the railroads, not reporting work injuries is more important than moving freight.
It doesn’t matter who it is – no matter how much of a team player you may be – the railroad cares more about its safety record than your health. Period. Many people might disagree with me (especially many of my old bosses!), but having worked on the rails for 14 years -- this is my opinion and a recent case backs up this claim.
A railroader called me up awhile back to relate to me what unfortunately has become a pretty typical situation: after he suffered an on-the-job injury, railroad officials, under the threat of termination, pressured him not to report his work injury.
I asked him to explain to me what happened. The railroader told me that while walking in the yard one night, he rolled his knee on some ballast that had been altered. At the time, he thought it was no big deal and he wanted to tough it out. Since the next two days were his off-days, he thought he could rest it up and return to work without a problem.
When he returned to work two days later and walked on some ballast, his knee started to swell up. He immediately requested medical attention. He was completely truthful with the yard master and said that injury first happened the night prior to his two day rest weekend. At the emergency room, he filled out an accident report with all the facts and details, including times, dates, etc. The doctor at the ER told him that he had a sprained knee. The doctor gave him an air cast and told him to see his family doctor.
The following morning his immediate supervisor’s supervisor called to say that if he turned in the accident report he would face disciplinary charges and be fired. The supervisor told him to tell his doctor that his injury did not happen at work.
The railroader called his railroad union officer, who called the railroad official back. The railroad official told the union officer -- without blinking an eye -- the exact same thing: if the railroader reports the work injury, he will be fired.
Because the railroader already had a black eye on his record from years ago, the union official advised him to report it as an off-duty injury. Of course, this would mean that he would have to pay his medical bills out of his own pocket through his own insurance and be responsible for any co-pay, and he would not be reimbursed for any lost wages.
When the railroader called me, he said he wanted to know his rights. After hearing his story, I knew there was not much he could do now. What he should have done was the following:
1) The night of the work injury - he should have reported what happened to his foreman, and then leave it to him to decide to report it.
2) He should have had a reliable witness with him when he reported it to the foreman.
3) He should have called his local chairman to advise him that he told the foreman about the injury.
Although our railroader did not lie on the accident report, he was threatened by the railroad for giving false information. The railroad will always take the position, in a situation like this, that the railroader hurt himself off the job and is now trying to turn it into an on-the-job injury. The railroad does this because it is easier to fire an employee for giving false information and make it stick, than to charge and fire him for late filing an injury report and taking a chance that an arbitrator will return the man to service with back pay. Since the railroader never told anyone about the injury when it occurred, it is almost impossible for him to refute the railroad’s charge at a formal investigation.
SOMETIMES THE TRUTH ISN'T ENOUGH!
Further, working through an injury won’t prove anything to anyone, could cause a more serious injury, and like in the case of our railroader, could allow the railroad to fire you for simply doing your job.
Don’t make the same mistake as our railroader. Remember you have to back up the truth – report your work injury no matter how insignificant it might seem at first, have a witness with you when you report it and talk to your railroad union representative ASAP.