Cumulative Trauma Injuries
Railroads in the United States are hauling more freight over more miles of track than ever before but are using fewer employees to carry out this physically demanding work. In 1970 there were approx. 640,000 railroad employees and by 1987, the number of railroad employees dropped to approx. 263,000.
As of 2013, the number of freight railroad employees in the United States has further decreased to approx. 176,000. Increased productivity and decreased manpower has resulted in many overworked employees and has ultimately contributed to the prevalence of cumulative trauma orthopedic injuries.
Railroad workers of all crafts are exposed to risk factors generally recognized in medicine and science as a contributing cause of cumulative trauma orthopedic injuries. The railroad industry has long been aware of the presence of risk factors in the working environment yet, for a number of reasons, has elected not to take steps to sufficiently reduce employee exposures to many recognized hazards. Cumulative trauma injuries can occur to all parts of the body, including the joints, bones and tissues of the spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, fingers, hips, knees, ankles and feet. Many times surgery is required to treat these types of orthopedic injuries which can lead to premature disability.
Occupational Exposure Injuries
Numerous work-related illnesses can develop as a result of repeated and prolonged exposure to certain toxic chemicals and hazardous elements routinely present in the railroad working environment. Some examples of hazardous materials that can cause or contribute to cause serious illnesses include diesel exhaust, diesel fumes, asbestos, creosote, chemicals, dust, powders, dioxins, chlorinated solvents, silica, degreasing agents, fuel oil, sulfur smoke, sulfuric acid, chlorine, acids, phosphate fumes, herbicides and pesticides. When a railroad fails to take appropriate steps to protect employees from inhaling harmful fumes and toxins, and fails to provide its employees with appropriate respiratory protective equipment, railroad workers can suffer from serious and life-threatening illnesses.
Some of the illnesses linked to exposures in the railroad work environment include:
- Bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Lung cancer or lung disease
- Brain cancer
- Colon cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Solvent encephalopathy
- Multiple myeloma