At the railroad union meetings Hoey & Farina regularly attend, we often ask what unsafe condition members have seen out on their railroad. Railroaders' typical answers include: a defective drawbar, malfunctioning hand brake, a sticky switch, poor ballast conditions or improper track clearance. Rarely does anyone comment on a malfunctioning toilet.
The federal law that protects railroad workers, the FELA - Federal Employers' Liability Act , is a powerful piece of legislation. Originally enacted to protect railroad workers when deaths on the railroad annually numbered in the thousands, the drafters of that original bill, and the lawmakers and regulators who have continually updated the FELA to meet the evolving conditions on the railroads, included powerful provisions in the law to protect many areas of a railroading, including many protections that railroaders to this day remain in the dark about.
To take but one example, consider the locomotive toilet. I know it may not be the most appealing thing to think about, but it has served many a railroader well – and oftentimes in some of the most dire of circumstances. However, did you know that there is a federal regulation specifically mandating that all locomotives be equipped with a safe and functioning toilet?
Furthermore, the safe toilet regulations on the federal level are supported on a state level in Illinois. The Illinois Commerce Commission is charged with issuing rules in the Illinois Administrative Code that address areas of concern for the state. In these rules, the Illinois code says that all locomotive toilets must be properly functioning and the area around the toilet must be kept dry. It goes on to say that drainage must be in place to insure that the toilet area remains safe and dry.
At this point, you are asking, “Why do I need to know so much about my locomotive's toilet?” Well, the truth is that you do need to know in order to report any unsafe conditions to the railroad. Have you ever noticed that the locomotive toilet area was slippery under foot? Did you know that this was a safety violation under the Federal Locomotive Inspection Act, as well as many state laws such as the Illinois Administrative Code? This matters because these laws and regulations are in place to protect workers in what is too often a much too dangerous profession.
There are many such regulations and the interplay between state laws and the FELA can become confusing quickly. But what is important to know is that the law protecting you at work is very powerful in the right set of hands.
IMPORTANCE OF DESIGNATED LEGAL COUNSEL
The above underlines the importance of your railroad union approved designated legal counsel. Attorneys that are chosen by railroad unions to represent injured railroad workers are specialists in the FELA – a unique law. Ask any lawyer whether they studied the FELA during law school. It's a good bet that many attorneys have never even heard of the FELA.
Your designated legal counsel deals with the FELA everyday – it is our job to know more than the general framework of the FELA. You could say that we, the attorneys of Hoey & Farina, know the FELA from the back of the Rail Yard to the top of the locomotive, from the backside of the switch to the – yes, you guessed it – to the inside of the locomotive's toilet. Please give Hoey & Farina a call at 888-425-1212 with any FELA question or concern.