On Tuesday, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo praised the work of the Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) Working Group and issued a call to action for the rail industry to take steps to help prevent railroad employee deaths.
This comes in response to events of the past five years during which 55 train and engine service employees have died while engaged in rail yard switching operations. SOFA is a decade-old voluntary, non-regulatory workplace safety partnership.
"The risks to employees engaged in switching operations are real and ever-present, and injuries and deaths resulting from such activities are seldom random or simply unfortunate events," said Szabo. "Since its inception in 1998, SOFA's rigorous analyses have shown many switching fatalities occur due to multiple contributing factors and by identifying underlying patterns future casualties can be prevented."
Szabo noted that the Working Group's longstanding efforts complement the Federal Railroad Administration's current Risk Reduction Program.
The current SOFA group is comprised of 11 career railroaders who together have more than 400 years' industry experience. Joining its FRA facilitators and management consultants, the group includes representatives from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, the United Transportation Union, the Association of American Railroads, and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.
In 1999, the Working Group's initial Findings and Recommendations identified the five LIFESAVERS, which have been widely adopted by the railroad industry. They are:
- Secure equipment before action is taken;
- Protect employees against moving equipment;
- Discuss safety at the beginning of a job or when a project changes;
- Communicate before action is taken; and
- Mentor less experienced employees to perform service safety.
A comprehensive process evaluation entitled An Independent Evaluation of the Switching Operations Fatality Analysis 2010 Working Group's Processes has laid the foundation for establishing future Working Group goals and objectives to ensure the safety of railroad yard employees and identify possible corrective actions that will prevent switching fatalities.
Preliminary data from the 2010 report indicates that there has been a 60 percent reduction in fatalities as a result of securing equipment, a 70 percent decline in fatalities as a result of protecting employees against moving equipment, an over 80 percent decrease in fatalities related to communicating before taking an action.
Additional information may be found at the Working Group's webpage.