A cross-industry working group for freight rail is concerned about the rate of fatalities related to switching operations over the last four months.
The Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) Working Group issued a warning in its November safety alert asking workers to be vigilant during switching operations. The group determined that three recent fatalities — one in Crossett, Arkansas, on Aug. 13, another in Richmond, Virginia, on Oct. 11 and a third in Tuscola, Illinois. on Nov. 11 — occurred during switching.
Switching occurs when railcars are moved from one location to another for purposes such as making trains or storing cars.
“While these recent cases have not yet been analyzed, the SOFA Working Group is concerned by the 159 injuries that occurred this year through August 31, 2020, and reminds all employees to remain vigilant during switching operations by not only protecting the shove movement, but also protecting themselves by avoiding close or no clearances hazards,” the safety alert said. “Last, but not least, remember to always hold a job briefing whenever the job or situation changes.”
The group has also been developing a list that identifies what factors might have contributed to more than 210 switching operations fatalities since 1992. The group was formed at the request of the Federal Railroad Administration in February 1998 to review switching operations and provide recommendations that could reduce or eliminate fatalities and injuries.
The working group’s members consist of those from the FRA, the Association of American Railroads, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLE-T), SMART-Transportation Division and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center.
One in four switching operations fatalities occurs because of close or no clearance, according to the safety alert. In these situations, a safety hazard is created when an employee has insufficient or no space to move away from a passing object.
A copy of the safety alert, provided by BLE-T, is available here.