It takes money and time for a railroad to properly maintain equipment. Too often railroads cut corners when it comes to properly repairing or replacing equipment. The result can be disastrous when somebody suffers a serious injury.
THE RAILROAD'S OBLIGATION TO PROVIDE SAFE EQUIPMENT
A railroad has an obligation under the FELA - Federal Employers' Liability Act to provide "reasonably safe and suitable tools, machinery and appliances." "Reasonably safe" does not mean the latest and best equipment which could be provided to do the work. What is "reasonable" depends on the circumstances. Generally, the greater the potential danger, the greater the obligation the railroad has under the FELA to provide available equipment.
Unless a safety appliance (i.e., automatic couplers, grab irons, hand holds, sill steps, hand brakes) or a locomotive is involved (Safety Applicance Act or Locomotive Inspection Act violations), the burden is on the injured railroader to prove the railroad could reasonably expect that equipment would fail. This requires proving that the railroad knew or reasonably should have known about the equipment defect that caused the injury. If the railroad has no way of knowing about the defect, then there is no liability under the FELA.
STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND OTHERS
If you are working with equipment that is not being maintained or replaced, the first thing you can do to protect yourself and co-workers is to be observant. This is especially true when there is no effective preventative maintenance program. Perform necessary inspections and pay attention to make sure equipment is operating properly and functioning as designed. When repairs are made, check to see that the parts replaced are the same type and quality, and consist of manufacturer approved materials. Manufacturer guidelines should be followed when repairs are made. Be wary of make-shift repairs made to keep equipment operating to complete a job or to get through the season. When you become aware of defects or inadequate repairs, report the problem immediately.
Document in writing the problem that you observed. If a log book is kept with the machine, make appropriate entries concerning the problem. Submit written operator inspection reports and equipment repair requests documenting the problem and the need to repair. Keep copies for your records. Report the problem to the safety committee. Obtain copies of safety committee meeting minutes that note the problem was discussed and that specific recommendations were made to repair or replace the equipment.
Importantly, bring the problem to the attention of co-workers, mechanics and supervisors. Ask mechanics and supervisors to operate the defective equipment. Discuss the problem with co-workers. Make sure that you and others are present when mechanics and supervisors inspect the equipment. Request that the equipment be taken out of service immediately and repaired or replaced.
If mechanics and supervisors refuse to take the equipment out of service, ask why. They may admit that "it's not in the budget", "it’s too costly", " it takes too much time to repair", or "the job needs to be completed." Witness testimony at trial to such conversations in an FELA case may demonstrate to a jury that the railroad values money and time more than your safety.
By doing these things, you are protecting yourself and your co-workers from work injury. If the railroad fails to make the proper repairs or replace the equipment, and serious injury results, you can establish in an FELA lawsuit that the company should have known that the equipment was going to fail and someone would get hurt.