Five Common Safety Hazards On Railroad Tracks (And How To Prevent Them)

We’ve all heard the old urban legend about the penny on the railroad track, but in the real world there’s actually a lot of potential safety hazards that face every railroad in America that go sadly un-repaired.

From faulty equipment to lack of foresight to plain carelessness on the part of the management, railroads are a huge source of risk for injury or worse, no matter how experienced or careful the worker is. While a list of every single common injury risk on a railroad could last for hundreds of pages, we’ve pulled together the five most common railroad safety hazards, and the effect they can have on their victims:

Lack of Reflective Surfaces

The Cause: In too many cases, surfaces that need some kind of light, marker, or reflective tape go without these crucial safety implements. Unmarked columns underneath track exchanges or overpasses can be a source of danger to anyone driving through the yard or anyone trying to navigate the tracks who isn’t as familiar with the area as they could be, and high-traffic areas with different vehicles crossing the tracks (or each others’ paths) can be a site of accidents and injuries when workers unknowingly enter the path of a vehicle they didn’t see coming.

The Solution: Inspect any given rail yard or track crossing to make sure all crossings are as well-marked as possible. Install warning signs, reflective safety tape, mounted safety lights, and other implements as needed to warn of high traffic, frequent vehicle crossing, or hazards in the road.


Boarding Moving Vehicles

The Cause: Referred to by railroad workers as “GOOME” (an acronym for Getting On and Off Moving Equipment), boarding a train in motion is still a tragically common source of injury for railroad personnel despite all evidence that it creates more problems than it solves.

The Solution: Simply put: don’t do it. Stricter enforcement of the rules regarding boarding a vehicle after it is in motion need to be put into place, and supervisors need to make sure they’re never putting a worker into a situation where they need to board an actively moving vehicle.


Improperly Set Ballast

The Cause: In the case of railroad tracks, “ballast” refers to the piles of gravel and crushed stone you see lying between each railroad tie. The goal of ballast is to help bear the load of the train track, act as drainage, and to prevent the growth of vegetation in the tracks. Track standards dictate that ballast needs to be set up to the top edge of the railroad tie, but in a lot of cases if the ballast brushes away over time or is set improperly to begin with it can create a tripping hazard for anyone trying to walk down the tracks.

The Solution: Frequent, regularly scheduled inspections of the ballast along the most commonly-travelled tracks in the area can help reduce the risk of injury and help trains run better by giving them a smoother surface to travel.


Unsecured Ties

The Cause: Speaking of ties, it should come as no surprise to learn that these can serve as massive risks on their own. If ties aren’t properly installed on a track, they can become a huge risk to anyone walking across or working around them – workers have suffered severe leg injuries after being crushed by an insecure tie near an area they were digging for ballast.

The Solution: Proper inspection of ties, especially in work sites where track maintenance is being prepared, will help ensure all ties are securely attached and stationary.


Improper Lighting

The Cause: Whether it’s at a loading area, farther down the track for safety, or even on the trains themselves, a lack of lighting is more common in railroads than is acceptable. Insufficient lighting can lead to injuries, damaged goods, accidents, and more when not attended to.

The Solution: Review the lighting solutions in each of your most-travelled or most hazardous areas and ensure proper lighting and visibility at each one of them. If any of your lights are on a timer, make sure those are properly set too – in too many cases, timers don’t accommodate for things like seasonality or time changes, leaving areas in the dark that shouldn’t be.
There’s plenty of other railroad safety hazards out there, but these are some of the most common that lead to injury. If you’ve been the victim of one of these, or any number of other railroad accidents, contact the railroad injury lawyers of O’Bryan Law today.

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