The railroads’ head in the sand approach to diesel exhaust helped line their pockets with big profits – and left their workers with a grim tab of occupational illnesses.
If injured, railroad employees are entitled to compensation under the Federal Employers Liability Act. The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) is a worker-friendly statute that allows for a financial recovery when the worker can show that his or her injury was caused, even in the slightest, by the negligence of the employer railroad. This means that employees who smoked cigarettes can still recover money against the railroad when juries find that unsafe workplace exposures contributed to the occupational illness.
Many crafts of railroad employees are regularly exposed to diesel exhaust. For example:
- Locomotive Engineer/Conductor/Brakeman/Fireman:
Despite a strict liability law prohibiting diesel exhaust from being inside the cabs of locomotives, the cabs of diesel locomotives are often filled with the soot and gas associated with diesel exhaust. On-board employees tell of having to clean soot from the insides of windows, wiping soot off the surfaces throughout the cabs, taping cracks in the floor to prevent entry of diesel exhaust and even going home to their loved ones, stinking of diesel exhaust. The unmistakable odor of diesel exhaust is an unfortunate companion inside many locomotive cabs, especially the older, less efficient locomotives. The environments in some locomotives also includes asbestos dust and second-hand smoke – a literal breeding ground for occupational cancers, pulmonary/breathing problems and even blood disorders like leukemia.
- Trackman/Section Crew/Equipment Operator:
The employees who maintain and construct the tracks and yards are exposed to diesel exhaust as well. They often work alongside running locomotives and track equipment. They operate improperly ventilated diesel-powered machines, like ballast regulators or backhoes. Diesel exhaust, combined with other track related exposures like silica dust from the ballast, creosote from the rail ties, asbestos rope for joint operations, welding fumes and herbicides, creates a noxious mixture that often lead to career-ending illnesses for many track department employees.
The mechanics and car men who maintain and repair the locomotives and rail cars are also exposed to diesel exhaust. In addition to working on board running locomotives, diesel mechanics often work in improperly ventilated roundhouses and shops where locomotives are left running in closed spaces. Mechanics refill locomotive traction sand which may expose them to silica dust. Employees in the car department perform their inbound and outbound inspections alongside running locomotives which kick off diesel exhaust and other harmful inhalants like ballast dust. The decades-old shops and roundhouses where mechanical and car department employees work were often chock-full of asbestos-insulated steam pipes and boilers. Many of today’s retirees likely worked with asbestos-containing brake pads and linings used on both locomotives and rail cars. Locomotive manufacturers have admitted that they continued to install asbestos-containing components on locomotives through the early 1980’s. Some of the old railroad passenger cars were lined entirely with asbestos-containing walls, ceilings and floor tiles. Some shop retirees may have also worked with solvents containing benzene, a chemical known to cause blood-related illnesses like leukemia. The workplace exposures for the men and women who keep the cars and locomotives moving on the railroad are varied, but diesel exhaust remains a major component.
- On Board Services/Passenger Conductors:
Diesel Injury Law now represents current railroad employees who worked on board passenger trains. In the case of Amtrak, these employees were regularly exposed to diesel exhaust because Amtrak had a policy of placing the crew/dorm cars right behind the pulling locomotives. As a result, the crew/dorm car was full of diesel exhaust. In addition, Amtrak allowed cigarette smoking on many of its trips through the year 2004 (by comparison, Greyhound banned smoking on its buses in 1990). Amtrak allowed its passengers to smoke because it was profitable. Amtrak allowed smoking despite knowing that its on board services employees were being exposed to carcinogenic second-hand smoke. If you were exposed to second-hand smoke and diesel exhaust while working on board Amtrak trains prior to 2004, and you have been diagnosed with cancer or another disease attributable to those exposures, you should contact Diesel Injury Law today.
- Hostler-Loader-Forklift Operators/Gate-Checkers:
Heavily-trafficked intermodal yards are often filled with diesel exhaust from the many trucks, locomotives, picks, forklifts and hostlers operating throughout the yard. Booth employees checking in diesel trucks are forced to work in the clouds of diesel exhaust left by each truck coming and going from the yard. Air quality sampling has found that heavy equipment operators, including forklift operators, are regularly exposed to high concentrations of diesel exhaust. Studies have found that occupational diesel exhaust exposures can put employees at 10 times the normal risk for illnesses like lung cancer.
FELA Lawyer for Railroad Employees with Occupational Diseases
Each railroad diesel exhaust case is different. Click here for a sample of diesel verdicts and settlements. Call Diesel Injury Law today and speak for free with a knowledgeable diesel attorney.