OSHA recently ordered Norfolk Southern Railway to pay more than $800,000 to three employees because they were fired for reporting injuries. This calls into question the railroad’s gold medals in previous years for low injury rates.
Roger Chesley, a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot wrote recently:
“For 23 straight years, [Norfolk Southern] has won the gold medal in the E.H. Harriman Awards, signifying that it has the lowest casualty rate for every 200,000 hours worked in the railroad industry. Recent criticism by a federal agency, however, clouds that stellar reputation.”
OSHA ordered Norfolk Southern to pay $802,168 in three cases.
In one case, a railroad conductor based in Harrisburg, PA, was fired after reporting a head injury he suffered when he blacked out and fell down steps while returning from the locomotive lavatory. Norfolk Southern said the employee faked his injury and made false and conflicting statements.
The day before the injury, the employee had been praised for excellent performance, highlighted by no lost work time due to injuries in his 35-year career.
“When workers are discouraged from reporting injuries, no investigation into the cause of the injury can occur,” said OSHA administrator David Michaels. “To prevent more injuries, railroad workers must be able to report an injury without fear of retaliation.”
In his column, The Virginian-Pilot’s Roger Chesley noted that what’s unknown is how many other Norfolk Southern employees had been discouraged from reporting injuries because the railroad had fired others for doing the same.
The railroad says it will fight OSHA’s rulings in all three cases.
This isn’t the first time Norfolk Southern has landed in OSHA’s cross-hairs.
Last year, OSHA ordered the railroad to pay a former employee $122,199 in damages for firing the employee for reporting an on-the-job injury.
In its press release regarding that incident, OSHA noted Norfolk Southern had intimidated other employees from reporting injuries:
“This ‘chilling effect’ allowed Norfolk Southern to maintain the appearance of an exemplary safety record and continue its 22-consecutive-year record as recipient of the E.H. Harriman Gold Medal Rail Safety Award.”