The railroad is required to provide safe working conditions even when you work off railroad property.
Early on it was recognized that railroading is a dangerous occupation.
It is also undisputed that railroad companies generate enormous profit. Therefore, Congress and the Courts have put the cost of the eyes, arms, backs and lives of railroad employees on the railroad.
In this light, early in the 1900’s, Congress enacted several statutes to protect railroad employees from the dangers of the workplace, including the FELA - Federal Employers’ Liability Act, Safety Appliance Act (SAA) and Boiler Inspection Act (BIA). However, Congress is not the only source of laws designed for the protection of railroad employees. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issues regulations binding on the railroads, as does Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA). FRA regulations include Track Safety Standards, Railroad Workplace Safety Rules, Railroad Locomotive Safety Standards, Railroad Freight Car Safety Standards, Railroad Safety Appliance Standards and Railroad Operating Practices Rules. Clearly, these all apply to railroad work.
Unsafe Condition / Defective Equipment Reoprt
OSHA regulations are not as clearly applicable to railroad work. The FRA has exclusive authority over railroad operating practices and environment. If a condition does not involve operation or equipment and there is an OSHA regulation on point, it probably applies.
When in doubt over whether an FRA or OSHA regulation applies, list all of them in your complaint anyway just to be on the safe side.
Another very important consideration for those workers injured while on non- railroad property is the statute of limitations. This rule provides the time an injured employee has to file a claim after the date of his work injury.
The FELA has national application and generally provides that an employee must file a suit in a competent court within three years of being injured.
A railroad employee injured on property not owned by his employer may have a claim against the owner of the property in addition to his FELA claim. However, the law of the state where the work injury occurred, generally governs such a claim. Illinois has a general two-year limitation period for personal injury claims. The laws of the states vary and may vary whether the claim is for injury or death. Some state wrongful death statutes have a one-year limitations period.
The point is that an injured employee should seek legal counsel sooner rather than later.
One of the most fertile, but least publicized, sources for laws designed to protect railroad employees is law made by judges deciding cases - caselaw. Judges interpret the FELA and other safety laws in applying the law to the facts of the cases they hear. In the many rulings that Judges have made deciding cases brought under the FELA, a number of specific requirements have been placed on the company for the benefit of the working railroad employee.
One of the most important is the requirement that the company provide a reasonably safe place for its employees to perform their duties, even when an employee is required to work on property not owned, managed nor maintained by the railroad. The railroad's duty is to inspect any area where it assigns its employees to work, to provide for the correction of any unsafe conditions and not to permit employees access to unsafe offsite work areas.
Often section crews will be asked to perform work on a spur track belonging to an industry or to work on track owned by another railroad. Train crews operate over other railroad’s lines and perform switching at industries. Carmen are sent to customer shipping facilities to make car inspections or to do repairs. These are some examples of railroaders doing their jobs while on non-railroad property. Under all of these scenarios, courts have imposed a duty on the railroad to make the offsite workplace reasonably safe for railroad employees.
Notwithstanding the railroad’s duty to provide a safe offsite workplace, some courts have ruled that the railroad must have knowledge of the unsafe condition before it can be held liable. In many cases, this same rule applies to on site dangerous conditions of the workplace. Therefore, it is very important to report any unsafe conditions you observe whether on or off railroad property. Make your complaint in writing, keep a copy for yourself and send a copy to your local railroad union officer.
You can print a copy of the Unsafe Condition / Defective Equipment Reoprt or call our office at 1-888-425-1212 and requesting a report be mailed to you. We all know that the company will disavow knowledge of unsafe working conditions when it is to its financial advantage. However, when faced with prior written complaints of an unsafe condition, the railroad becomes much more amicable in dealing with its injured workers.
Protect yourself and your fellow workers by immediately reporting any unsafe condition verbally and in writing, whether on or off railroad property.