Hand Brakes on Freight Trains Are a Cause of Worker Injuries
A common but little-known cause of injuries to railroad workers is the application and release of the heavy duty hand brakes that are found on freight trains.
Recently, the Federal Railroad Administration published a strategy intended to reduce the number of injuries caused by hand brakes by bringing in electrically driven hand brakes on trains to replace manual ones.
“There is a need to eliminate train crew injuries that occur during the application and releasing of freight car hand brakes,” the document stated. The report said electrically driven hand brakes reduce the risk of operator injuries and the need for workers to go in-between and climb rail cars. They also reduce potential damage to lading, track, vehicles and bridges and are likely to save railroads money in the long term.
At present railroad workers are required to apply 125 pounds of force to properly apply a manual hand brake. It’s a level of exertion that often leads to physical injuries. The administration also pointed out that brakes are frequently left unreleased on train cars, leading to slid flats or damaged wheels.
The issue was explored in a research paper Forces Applied to Large Hand Wheels by Jeffrey Woldstad, Mark McMulkin and Carolyn A. Bussi at Virginia Tech. The study looked at the use of large hand wheels in a number of industries including chemical plants and other industrial workplaces in situations that resulted in “constricted and awkward work postures.”
Research on the railroad suggests about 1.5 percent of all employees suffered lost-time injuries and over 6 percent of injuries to yardmen were associated with the operation of hand brakes.
Given the fact a force of 125 pounds is required to operate vertical hand brakes and as much as 220 pounds is needed for horizontal hand brakes, there are some real questions about whether workers can apply this much force without getting injured.
When railroads place unreasonable demands on workers, leading to injuries, there may be grounds for lawsuits under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). There have also been cases in which a failure to maintain hand brakes and other items of equipment on the railroad, results in injuries. The railroad has a duty to provide a safe working environment to its employees.
If you have been injured operating a hand brake on the railroad, you may have grounds to file a FELA claim. Call us for a free consultation.