Railroads have been around in the United States since the early 1800s. There has been considerable progress since the days of the steam locomotive, but working on the railroad has continued to be a dangerous enterprise. Railroad workers face many hazards on a daily basis, from fatigue and dangerous cargo to broken rail tracks and unhealthy environments.
Railroad workers include engineers, conductors, switchmen, carmen, track maintenance men, machinists, and clerks. Each of these roles is exposed to different risks, but an insidious risk is common to all.
Across the United States, railroad workers have suffered injury and even death due to poisonous chemicals entering their bodies from their work surroundings. Diesel exhausts, asbestos, and benzene are common chemical byproducts present in the workspace for a railroad worker. Each of these chemicals poses a threat to the human body.
A Job Surrounded by Dangerous Chemicals
Industrial workplaces are filled with toxic chemicals, and railroads are no different. Even though railroad companies have known that chemicals like asbestos and benzene are harmful to their employees, they still continued to use them in construction materials, cleaning solvents, insulation, railroad equipment, and brake components.
Benzene is an organic highly flammable chemical that is liquid at room temperature. It can be formed by both manmade and natural processes. It is used to make lubricants, dyes, rubbers, drugs, cleaning detergents, and pesticides. In railroad workplaces, benzene is used as a solvent to clean tools and machinery.
Benzene disrupts cell function in the human body, and it can also damage the immune system. It is known to be carcinogenic to humans, causing blood cancers like leukemia.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral found in rocks and soil. It has been used in thousands of commonly used products in homes and workplaces. In a railroad setting, you can find asbestos in train brakes and welding rods used for maintenance.
Asbestos fibers can be inhaled very easily, and once they enter the body, they can severely injure the lungs. Asbestos is known to cause mesothelioma, a cancer of the outer lining of the stomach lungs and heart, and lung cancer, the second-most common cancer in the U.S. A study also found that railroad workers were three times as likely to die of mesothelioma than the general public.
Diesel fumes are ever-present around older engines and have caused a variety of lung diseases, including lung cancer.
The Responsibility of the Employer
The health of workers is the responsibility of the employer. Workers risk their health and lives to work risky jobs, and they must be taken care of by the individuals assigning them to hazardous tasks.
91,100 workers were employed as railroad workers in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Major companies such as Amtrak, Union Pacific, and BNSF employ these workers, but fail to provide them healthy work environments. In recent times, there has even been news of trains being run with one-man crews.
Federal protection is granted to railroad workers in the form of the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), enacted in 1908. According to this Act, railroad carriers must compensate employees who suffer any injuries because of employer negligence. If the railroad worker died in an accident, the railroad company is liable to their family.
Thus, FELA applies to:
- All common carriers by railroad
- Engaged in commerce
- Between any states, territories, or foreign nations
It is applicable in the event of any injury or death resulting from:
- negligence of the officers, agents, or employees
- any defect or insufficiency, due to its negligence, in its cars, engines, appliances, machinery, track, roadbed, works, boats, wharves, or other equipment.
FELA thus provides a safeguard to workers, ensuring that they can get compensation for their injuries.
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A company making profits while neglecting the health and well-being of its workers is unconscionable. Society must ensure that hard-working employees are protected and get the justice they deserve if they suffer in the line of work.
Th lawyers at Pintas & Mullins work hard to fight for the rights of railroad workers and get them the compensation they deserve. Know that our legal team is here to provide their expertise and support if you are a railroad worker suffering due to a cancer diagnosis. Reach out today for a free case review. You don’t need any money to hire us, and we only get paid if we win you a settlement or verdict.