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The two agencies with greatest responsibilities for protecting the health and lives of railroad workers have agreed to coordinate efforts to protect rail employees who report on-the-job injuries and unsafe working conditions from discrimination and retaliation from their employers.

The Federal Railroad Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on July 16, 2012, signed a memorandum of agreement that outlines programmatic efforts to ensure railroaders' whistleblower rights under the Federal Railroad Safety Authorization Act, or FRSA, are not violated. The full text of the MOA is available online.

The most important thing for rail workers to know is that federal regulators who receive injury reports or warnings about workplace dangers from conductors, engineers, carmen, trackmen, rail yard laborers or mechanics will take those alerts serious and not allow railroad corporations to use threats of firing or demotion to intimidate employees.

Collaboration between the FRA and OSHA to protect the rights of injured or endangered rail employees is badly needed. In a joint statement detailing their new cooperation, the agencies noted

Whistleblower complaints in the railroad industry have been on the rise in recent years. Between 2007 and 2012, OSHA received more than 900 whistleblower complaints under the FRSA, and almost 63 percent involved an allegation that a worker was retaliated against for reporting an on-the-job injury.

It's little wonder, then, that FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo said, “This memorandum is a watershed moment for both railroads and labor alike. Securing a process that protects employees who report safety violations is critical to maintaining safety standards in the workplace.”

As an attorney for injured railroad workers based in Virginia (VA) for more than 25 years, I know that rail companies will use almost any tactic to deter accident reports. Thanks to increasing scrutiny and FRSA enforcement over the past few years, Amtrak, BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern and other rail corporations have been less and less successful at intimidating employees. In fact, just last month, NS was ordered to pay more than $800,000 to three of its workers after OSHA determined the railroad had violated the employees' FELA rights.

I welcome closer cooperation between FRA and OSHA. Rail workers must be protected from injury and death, and their legal rights must be respected.


About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

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