Railroad Workers and Asbestos Exposure

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Aging railcars and train tracks are some of the greatest contributors to the elevated risk of asbestos exposure that railroad workers face. When railroad workers encounter asbestos that has been agitated and is airborne, they are at great risk of developing mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other asbestos-related diseases.

Railcar Asbestos Exposure Continues

Asbestos use in newly built railcars has decreased, but more than 160,000 railroad employees are at risk every day of being exposed to asbestos (a known human carcinogen). According to the CDC, their data reveals that railroad workers made up 17.6% of mesothelioma deaths in the transportation, warehousing, and utility sectors in 1999. This number is expected to remain steady for decades due to the latency period.

Let’s take a closer look at how railroad workers are exposed to asbestos, which types of tradesmen and tradeswomen are at risk, how your risk is minimized, and how you can seek legal help if you have been exposed and weren’t properly warned or protected by your employer.

How Railroad Workers Are Exposed to Asbestos on the Job

Until the 1980s, asbestos was widely used across industries, including the railroad industry. This “miracle mineral” was non-corrosive and could resist heat and prevent fires from happening, which made it an appealing choice for use in locomotives, freight trains, and passenger cars. It was commonly used in insulation, floor tiles, steam engines, rail ties, brake pads, sealing cement, brake linings, and more. Employees and passengers alike were then exposed to deadly asbestos fibers. The level of exposure varied, depending on:

  1. The products that they used
  2. The duration of time that they were exposed to the asbestos fibers

Products that railroad workers, in particular, would have been exposed to include:

  • Brake pads and clutch plates
  • Boiler linings and firebox casings
  • Engine compartments
  • Roofing and floor tiles
  • Gaskets
  • Hoses used for hydraulics and steam supply lines
  • Insulation in company buildings and railcars
  • Rope, packing, and cement supplies
  • Sealants
  • Valves
  • Wallboard and paint
  • Protective clothing like overalls, gloves, hats, and boots

The truth about the danger of asbestos was revealed in the 1970s. After, those who became ill were able to connect their illnesses to asbestos exposure. While asbestos exposure is incredibly harmful, the effects of it aren’t typically felt and diagnosed until 10-50 years after exposure occurs. To this day, railroad workers are being diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases, as are many of their family members due to secondary exposure (which can occur if a railroad worker accidentally comes home with asbestos fibers clinging to them).

Who is Most at Risk

The jobs that these railroad workers held typically included:

  • Inspectors
  • Maintenance workers
  • Locomotive engineers
  • Locomotive firers
  • Machinists
  • Brake, signal, and switch operators
  • Conductors and yardmasters
  • Rail yard engineers

Today, the railroad workers most at risk are those who make repairs on aging railcars. These older railcars contain deteriorating asbestos, which can become fragile and release asbestos fibers into the air. If airborne fibers are combined with a poorly ventilated space, anyone in that space is at a very high risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.

Railroad workers who excavate or tunnel new rail lines are also at great risk of developing asbestos-related diseases, as asbestos can be found in old rail lines and could be disturbed with the laying of new lines.

Known Asbestos Sites

Railway companies that are known to have used asbestos include:

  • Long Island Railroad
  • Railroad Friction Products Corporation
  • Metro-North Railroad
  • National Railroad Passenger Corporation

Preventing Asbestos Exposure

While railroad employees and crews are protected under OSHA and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), this dual oversight has led to issues regarding jurisdiction. To mitigate risks that fall outside of their jurisdiction, OSHA and the FRA continually release memorandums and advisories. It is essential that railroad company leadership are paying attention to and abiding by these to fully protect their employees and crews when possible.

Legal Protections and Actions of Railroad Workers

All railroad employees and crews are protected under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), which helps ensure protection for those who are injured on the job. Asbestos-related diseases caused by occupational exposure are covered by FELA.

If you were injured or made ill on the job and can prove negligence was the cause, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical expenses. To get the greatest level of compensation, you’ll want to hire a lawyer with asbestos litigation experience.