March 17, 2005

CHICAGO (March 17)—When UTU #1003 Local Chairman Aaron Combs wrote up a complaint about the lack of first-aid kits on Norfolk Southern locomotives in Kankakee, he never suspected his complaint would lead to a systemwide change.

But that’s what’s happening a year after Combs’ March 15, 2004 letter to UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. On March 19, 2004, Szabo sent a letter to the Illinois Commerce Commission noting that NS locomotives failed to meet the requirements of Illinois State Statute, which mandates a first-aid kit on every train or engine.

The Commission’s Rail Safety Program Administrator, Michael E. Stead, notified all of the state’s carriers in writing that their locomotives had to be equipped with kits conforming to an eight-point inventory listing every bandage, sling, sterile dressing, roll of gauze and burn ointment set forth in the law. He also listed three optional items advised for the kits: a 4” x 5” instant cold compress, a pair of sterile eye pads and eye wash, and an American Medical Ass’n. first-aid guide booklet.

Stead also had an ICC inspector verify the non-compliance of NS locomotives in Kankakee and followed up with a series of letters and phone calls.

On March 11 of this year Szabo received a copy of a letter from Norfolk Southern Corporation General Counsel-Operations Jeffrey H. Burton indicating the carrier’s intent to equip all NS locomotives with first-aid kits.

The copy of the letter from Burton to the Illinois Commerce Commission said that “After much study by NS staff, senior management has determined that we will equip all locomotives with basic first aid kits meeting ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standards and ICC requirements. It will of course take some period of time to secure the kits and affix them to our locomotives, and your patience while this is underway is appreciated.”

“The process works when members choose to use it,” said Szabo. “The awareness of a Local Chairman in Kankakee, and his taking the time to make a complaint to the Illinois Legislative Board, will benefit NS employees systemwide.

“Technically, NS did not have to equip a unit with a first-aid kit unless it was operating in Illinois,” Szabo said. “However, they decided to equip their entire fleet with these kits, regardless of the territory to which a unit is assigned. The Illinois Commerce Commission’s notice will thus have an effect all over the NS system—from Southern Ontario to Florida and from New Jersey to Kansas City.”

Szabo said he wanted to thank Stead and the Commission Staff for their efforts, and NS’ Burton for stepping forward to do the right thing.

“Sometimes the right thing happens for the right reasons,” Szabo said. “If these first-aid kits help prevent an infection or deeper injury somewhere on the NS system 1,000 miles away, that employee will have Local Chairman Aaron Combs from Kankakee, Illinois, to thank.”