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FELA And Workplace Safety Regulations


Railroading can be a dangerous occupation.  Heavy and aging equipment, high speeds, numerous passengers, and demanding deadlines can lead to higher rates of railroad worker accidents than those in other industries.  As railroad use increased, the number of railroad worker accidents increased as well.  Congress passed the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) in 1908 to improve those conditions, and improve them it did. 

FELA regulations established the right of victims of railroad worker accidents to contact FELA lawyers to seek compensation through FELA lawsuits.  However, that is not all that FELA did.  FELA also established new safety standards for the railroad industry in hopes of reducing the number of railroad worker accidents and thereby limiting the need for lawyers to file FELA lawsuits. 

Other statutes and regulatory agencies have been created since that time, working to reduce the number of legal claims.

FELA Safety Standards
FELA established a set of standards outlining the duties railroad employers owed to their workers to protect them from railroad worker accidents and to protect themselves from lawsuits.  Some of those duties include

  • Maintaining a reasonably safe workplace to avoid railroad worker accidents
  • Regularly inspecting the workplace
  • Fully training and supervising employees to ensure they remain free of railroad worker accidents
  • Protecting workers from intentional, harmful actions of their fellow employees leading to lawsuits
  • Consistently enforcing safety standards, providing no grounds for lawsuits
  • Eliminating unreasonable deadlines and work quotas that can lead to railroad worker accidents and lawsuits

When railroad companies violate any of these standards, and railroad worker accidents result, it is much easier for FELA lawyers to prove liability.  That is especially true since there is only a “featherweight” burden of proof required of FELA lawyers, requiring only lawyers prove some degree of liability, which caused those railroad worker accidents. 

OSHA Standards
In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) were established to provide greater safety in the workplace and greater rights and responsibilities to workers, including those in the railroad industry.  Employee rights under OSHA include:

  • Access to reports on safety conditions and relevant medical records
  • The right to request OSHA inspections
  • The right to request those inspections anonymously
  • he right to be protected from any retaliation for OSHA complaints

Clearly, when such protections are in place, railroad employers have a great incentive to prevent railroad worker accidents and avoid FELA lawsuits

OSHA also established employer responsibilities, such as establishing a safe and hazard-free workplace, ensuring that all employees know OSHA regulations and are aware of any hazardous situations or materials in the workplace, and that they have access to medical and exposure records.

Any violations of those responsibilities, which result in railroad worker accidents, provide clear proof of liability when lawyers file FELA lawsuits to obtain compensation for injuries.  Such proof of liability can ensure success for and compensation for victims of railroad worker accidents.

Boiler Inspection Act
The Boiler Inspection Act, also known as the Locomotive Inspection Act of 1991, was passed to ensure that train boilers and/or locomotives are maintained and regularly inspected to avoid railroad worker accidents.  A violation of this act provides victims of railroad worker accidents and their lawyers with the right to file suits, similar to FELA lawsuits, to obtain compensation for injuries due to railroad worker accidents.  However, in the case of the Boiler Act, if there is evidence of violation of this act, there is no comparative negligence defense such as can be used  in FELA lawsuits.

Safety Appliance Act

This legislation was passed in 1893, requiring all trains to have automatic couplers and brakes on at least half their cars, and handrails on the ends of every car, to protect employees operating or moving about those trains.  Compliance with this Act is enforced through FELA, allowing victims of railroad worker accidents resulting from violations of this act to retain FELA lawyers to help them obtain compensation through FELA lawsuits.

Legal Options

All of these statutes were enacted to protect employees from railroad worker accidents, and, if violated, to provide those victims and their FELA lawyers with the option of filing FELA lawsuits.  These regulations are complex and require specialized knowledge of railroad workers and these safety acts, so an experienced FELA lawyer is invaluable to victims of railroad worker accidents who seek to recover damages through FELA lawsuits.

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