Railroads Dominate Whistleblower Claims To OSHA
As a railroad worker, you can face a dilemma if you see and report dangerous conditions on the job. Although reporting a hazard is the sensible thing to do for the sake of your welfare and that of your fellow workers, the big railroads don’t always see it that way.
The railroads are often more interested in their profits than in your safety, and they don’t take criticism well. An example is provided in a recent article in Fairwarning.org.
Mike Elliott, a railroad worker from Washington State, became so concerned with signals that were inexplicably changing, he took up the issue with BNSF Railway Co. He quickly found the railroad had no interest in addressing the problem so took it up with the Federal Railroad Administration,
That’s when his problems began. The regulator found 357 safety violations, including 112 signal system defects on the tracks. Elliott lost his job as a locomotive engineer.
Fortunately, the federal whistleblower laws are in place for this kind of scenario. This summer a jury ruled BNSF’s action was illegal retaliation.
Elliott was awarded $1.25 million, although the award is being appealed. Commentators say it highlights the unjust punishment that is given to workers who report issues and reflect the old-style management tactics on the railroad.
There are no fewer than 22 federal whistleblower rules administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. They are still widely flouted by employers.
Fairwarning.org alluded to OSHA figures that show, workers employed by railroads filed in excess of 2,000 retaliation complaints against their employers. The fact seven railroads were in the list of the 10 worst offenders highlights the extent of the problem in this industry where safety is paramount.
BNSF led the way with 409 complaints, followed by Union Pacific, which had 360 whistleblower complaints. CSX and Norfolk Southern were in fourth and fifth place with 267 and 247 complaints respectively. Almost half of the cases brought against the railroads have been upheld.
In some cases, workers have been fired for reporting an injury. There is certainly a culture on the railroads that leads workers to believe they will be discriminated against if they file an official report after being hurt, even though they have a right to seek compensation under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) when they are not to blame.
I have represented injured railroad workers for more than two decades. If you have been hurt on the railroads, call me for a free consultation.