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Rick Shapiro
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How Railroad Injury Attorneys Analyze Ergonomics to Prove Railroad Negligence

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Also, when a railroad claims there is “no need” for an ergonomic assessment of a railroad worker job or task which has caused numerous injuries, showing the 1991 CSX ergonomic study of electricians totally refutes such nonsense.

What does ergnonomics have to do with railroad worker injuries involving heavy lifting or even repetive stress injuries? Alot, and even the railroads held seminars in 1990 to learn how ergonomics could prevent a wide variety of railroad worker injuries.

The word ergonomics has several definitions, but most experts agree that it involves designing workplace tools or equipment to make them more user-friendly and safe for workers. Most of us are familiar with lawn and garden tools that are made with a handle or grip that is more comfortable, and this is a very basic form of ergonomics. However, the field involves not only changing a grip or a way to hold a tool, but more broadly involves changing work tasks themselves, to prevent repetitive stress injuries before they ever happen. Changing the way work tasks are done is known as an “administrative change.” Changing the actual tool or the equipment is known as an “engineering change.” These are the two most common ways ergonomics affects railroad workers and workers in any field that repetitively use hand tools or power equipment, that is used nearly every day at work

Although there were discussions about repetitive stress injuries earlier, it wasn’t until 1990 that the Association of American railroads decided to hold seminars to explain how ergonomics could help railroads reduce injuries in the workplace. Our law firm has obtained many of the materials which were shared with the nation’s railroads, which were a part of these AAR trade organization educational seminars in 1990 and 1991, including “draft” materials. At first, the major railroads were eager to learn about ergonomics–it made sense to learn how to avoid injuries in the workplace because it saves the railroads money in the long run. It was only after rail worker attorneys used the very same materials AGAINST the railroads that the discussion of ergonomics seemed to go “underground.” On the one hand, the AAR championed ergonomics, but then when the railroads failed to carry through the prevention methods to various types of rail workers, the same materials are irrefutable proof of railroad negligence in avoiding preventable injuries–that are continuing to occur.

The seminars were incredibly detailed. The railroads in the ergonomics seminars of 1990 and 1991 learned that they must review the total number of claims that were injuring workers, to help analyze which specific tasks were causing injuries so they could be addressed and changed. The supervisors with the railroads were taught how to go about doing a complete ergonomic evaluation in the workplace-after analyzing safety data on previous injuries, railroads learned that slip and fall injuries as well as low back injuries from lifting, were two of the biggest areas that the railroads knew were repetitively causing injuries and which needed attention. The railroad safety supervisor was advised to take pictures of how the tasks that were causing injuries were being done. Further, the supervisors with railroads learned about the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health “lifting criteria.” To avoid low back injuries caused by repetitive or heavy lifts, NIOSH had developed guidelines on safe amounts that could be lifted at any one time, much less repetitively. And this was called the NIOSH criteria. A simple NIOSH chart visually showed the railroad supervisor, what amount could be lifted and the criteria explained how the heavier the amount, and the further it was lifted above the waist and away from the body, the less a worker could safely lift on a repetitive basis, or even one time. Not only this, many railroad purchased computer software that could evaluate lifting an repetitive lifting tasks–this was called two dimensional or three dimensional software. Thus, railroads learned how to prevent heavy lifting injuries, and knew that the tasks should be ergonomically changed, as one example of many.

The broad study of ergonomics didn’t just include lifting in 1990. Railroad supervisors looked into ergonomic changes to the office environment for clerical railroad workers, and even looked into of prevention of slips, trips and fall injuries. Changing flooring to a non-skid surface, changing the surfaces of work shoes or boots, involves either engineering or administrative changes to prevent slips trips and falls. As a matter of fact, railroad injuries caused by slips, trips or false are one of the specific troublesome injury prevention areas that railroads examined in 1990.

Although all the major railroads studied ergonomics as early as 1990, our firm has developed interesting information with regard to CSX. One of its safety supervisors took the knowledge from the 1990 ergonomics seminars and went into the CSX workplace to evaluate electrical worker/electrician injuries. He followed all of the ergonomic training criteria, by using the NIOSH criteria, studying the type of injuries that were repetitively seen. By analyzing prior claims, conducting photographs of the work tasks, interviewing the workers to determine what was causing the injuries, he applied these principles to help reduce injuries to electricians. What is amazing is that the track maintenance workers with CSX had by far the highest number of low back injuries, and also suffered a significant amount of slips, trips and falls, but CSX and never conducted detailed ergonomic evaluations of these track maintenance workers in the 90s or even up till now. This can be good evidence of inadequate evaluation of ergonomics in the workplace. Also, when a railroad claims there is “no need” for an ergonomic assessment of a railroad worker job or task which has caused numerous injuries, showing the 1991 CSX study of electricians totally refutes such nonsense.

Any railroad worker should be mindful of the fact that claims against the railroad fall under the Federal Employers Liability Act, which provides for a three-year statute of limitations from when the claim arises/accrues. In repetitive stress injury situations, careful legal analysis must be applied to determine when the three-year statute of limitations begins to run, (“accrues” in legal jargon”) If you believe that you or a family member may have a repetitive stress injury, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible, because the statute of limitations analysis usually requires legal advice and a careful analysis of not only the legal situation but a review of all applicable prior medical care for that particular type of injury involved. Please contact our law firm ( our firm website is: hsinjurylaw.com ) if you would like to have a free initial consultation. We handle these types of cases on a contingent legal fee, which means that our firm recovers a legal fee only if we recover for you or your family member’s injury