December 20, 2005

CHICAGO (Dec. 20)—Following a complaint from the UTU Illinois Legislative Board, the Federal Railroad Administration said it would cite Norfolk Southern Corp. for the mishandling of an employee on-duty injury by a Terminal Superintendent in Decatur, Illinois.

In a December 16 letter to UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo, FRA Regional Administrator Laurence H. Hasvold said his investigators determined that the NS Terminal Superintendent violated Part 225.22 of Chapter 49 of the U.S. Code when he failed to report an injury suffered by a switchman on June 25.

FRA’s investigation revealed that after the NS Terminal Superintendent drove the injured employee to an emergency room for treatment he engaged in conduct designed to make the injury appear non-reportable.

“The interview determined that the supervisor claimed that the injury was not reportable,” Hasvold wrote. “He denied the employee’s request to mark off in accordance with the physician’s instructions. Clearly, the supervisor was not knowledgeable about FRA reportable injuries and disregarded the physician’s instructions.”

Hasvold told Szabo his office had recommended that NS be assessed a civil penalty (fine) for violating Part 225.22 and that a “Regional Letter of Warning” would be issued to the Terminal Superintendent regarding his failure to handle the injury properly.

“Part 225 is aimed at ‘actions calculated to discourage or prevent the reporting of an on-duty injury,’” Szabo said. “The FRA found that the supervisor neglected to report the injury to the FRA and had contrived to make the injury appear non-reportable by disregarding the physician’s diagnosis.”

Szabo said it was “ironic” that the incident under investigation happened only one month before Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the Railroad Employees Medical Treatment Act, which will subject railroad companies to severe financial penalties if their managers attempt to delay, deny or interfere with the medical treatment of an injured employee.

“In their investigation FRA documented that the NS Supervisor took one hour and twenty minutes to transport the injured employee to the hospital – and the hospital was only three miles from the worksite,” Szabo said.

“But because the FRA regulations are oriented toward the accuracy of injury reporting, FRA could not fault NS for its supervisor’s effort to delay the prompt start of treatment,” Szabo said. “That’s why the UTU worked so hard to get the Illinois General Assembly to pass the Railroad Employees Medical Treatment Act. That law directly addresses the need for prompt medical treatment and penalizes railroads if they try to delay, deny or interfere with it.”

The new law takes effect January 1, 2006.

“Had the Railroad Employees Medical Treatment Act been in effect at the time of this injury, the documented delay in getting this injured switchman to the emergency room would have made a textbook complaint under the new state law,” Szabo said. “An hour and twenty minutes to travel three miles simply isn’t going to cut it.”

“The FRA’s Part 225 regulations and the state’s new Railroad Employees Medical Treatment Act deals with two separate issues—the accuracy of reporting on-duty injuries and ‘prompt’ treatment for on-the-job injuries in the railroad industry,” Szabo said. “In this case – as is so often the case – both were violated.”

“On January 1, 2006 we will at last have a means to adjudicate those violations that deal specifically with delaying or interfering with the integrity of an injured employee’s medical treatment,” Szabo said. “FRA will continue to do its job regarding ‘reportability’ of violations, and the Illinois Commerce Commission will handle those cases that deal with the ‘integrity of medical treatment.’

“One day – hopefully soon – the mistreatment of injured railroad workers will end,” Szabo said.