Injuries & Illness Common Injuries & Illnesses Suffered by Railroad Workers

Occupational Injuries & Illness

Because of the complex, heavy machinery involved, as well as the cramped or less than ideal work spaces, job-related injuries are common in the railroad industry. Injuries come in many forms, ranging in seriousness from minor to severe. For any injured railroad worker, the important thing to remember is that compensation for the injury is guaranteed by the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) as long as you can prove that some amount of employer negligence led to the accident and injury. However, regardless of the type of injury sustained or its severity, no financial compensation can be received through a FELA claim unless the individual can prove railway negligence. Working with an experienced FELA attorney will provide you with your best chance at receiving just compensation. Contact our office today to discuss your options, free of charge.

To learn more about the various injuries and illnesses railroad workers can suffer, please click below:

Catastrophic Injuries

Simply put, a catastrophic injury is any injury that leaves victims with enduring emotional, psychological, or physical scars. While many injuries heal, catastrophic injuries decrease your quality of living and affect every aspect of life.

There are a multitude of injuries that could be categorized as catastrophic.

  • For instance, a serious back or neck injury could be considered catastrophic because, depending on the severity of the injury, a victim could be left paralyzed. Two of the most common forms of paralysis are quadriplegia and paraplegia. Paraplegia is paralysis of the body's lower extremities; quadriplegia involves paralysis in all of the extremities of the body.
  • Severe burn injuries may also be considered catastrophic. Generally speaking, there are three types: first, second, and third degree. Depending on the severity of the burn injury, the victim may be left with emotional and psychological scars. First degree burns only affect the outer layer of skin; second degree burns damage the out layer of skin and the layer underneath. Third degree burns damage the deepest layer of skin, bone, and muscle tissue. In extreme cases, severe burn injuries may cause shock or death.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a complicated intracranial injury. They may not be visible, but they can leave the victim with a variety of serious and lasting side effects. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, TBIs may be caused by an object forcefully coming in contact with the skull or the skull suddenly hitting another object. For instance, the victim of a train accident could be thrown against the window or another hard object and suffer a TBI. TBIs can be categorized as mild or severe. A concussion is considered a mild TBI. Because concussions are treatable and many victims recover fully, concussions are not considered catastrophic injuries. However, a severe brain injury could leave the victim with lasting memory problems and decreased mental faculties; these types of injures may be considered catastrophic.

Per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), TBIs are responsible for a substantial number of deaths yearly. In fact, CDC calls TBIs a serious public health problem in the United States.

Cumulative Trauma & Repetitive Stress Injuries

A common injury railroad workers suffer is cumulative trauma, also referred to as a "wear-out" or repetitive stress injury. Repetitive motions cause injury because overuse of one area of your body will result in its wearing out faster. This include musculoskeletal disorders to the back, hip, neck, shoulders, knees, and hands that commonly damage nerves, muscles, and tendons. You may feel pain, experience weakness in the affected area, or experience symptoms such as numbness, swelling, and burning. Individuals develop a repetitive stress injury at different rates, but they all occur because of the movements and positions your body is in on a daily basis.

Common forms of cumulative trauma include the following:

  • Carpal tunnel, the compression of nerves in the carpal ligament. This causes tendons to swell, producing pain in the wrist / hand. There may be numbness, tingling, and severe pain in the affected areas. In order to prove carpal tunnel syndrome, you will have to visit your medical provider and have nerve tests done. Common tests are nerve conduction studies and electromyographic tests.
  • Lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as "tennis elbow." This is an inflammation of the upper arm that results from tearing of the tendons in that area. Those suffering from this condition may experience severe pain and a weak grasp. It is difficult to detect this condition from an X-ray, so a diagnosis is made based on the signs and symptoms that the person is experiencing.

Railroad Workers Are Vulnerable to Cumulative Trauma

Railroad workers are at a particular risk of developing a repetitive stress injury because of the physical nature of their work. Often, railroad workers need to work bent over or in awkward positions to repair track or perform some type of maintenance.

This injury can occur over time due to repeated exposure to hazards such as:

  • Exposure to vibrations
  • Throwing switches
  • Mounting / dismounting train cars
  • Walking long distances on ballast rock

A study conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine's Occupational and Environmental Health Science Center confirmed that long term exposure to shocks and vibrations encountered by railroad workers does cause direct harm to these employees. Worse still, the study concluded that while other industries have made changes to protect employees from similar on-the-job hazards, the railroad industry has done little to improve safety standards since the 1950s, leaving their employees susceptible to cumulative trauma injuries.

Filing a FELA Claim for Repetitive Stress Injuries

Under the Federal Employees Liability Act (FELA), a worker suffering from cumulative trauma may have the right to recover for his or her lost wages, diminished earning capacity, and/or pain and suffering. While many employers argue that cumulative injuries are not a risk factor for their employees—because most workers do not do the same activity all day long—many tasks like throwing switches or walking the rails can result in musculoskeletal wear and tea. Over the course of a 20 or 30 year career, they become de facto repetitive motions similar to those incurred by factory line workers or professional athletes. Like a baseball pitcher whose shoulder blows out long before he or she experiences trauma in any other muscle, many railroad workers suffer from cumulative trauma due to overuse of particular muscles during their years on the job.

While evidence of these injuries being caused by on-the-job hazards is conclusive, an injured employee must still prove that work-related tasks directly caused the specific injury in order to successfully recover for damages under FELA. Even with medical research on your side, proving that cumulative trauma was the direct result of railroad employment can be quite a challenge and may require extensive testimony by expert witnesses like ergonomists and physicians. For this reason, the FELA attorneys at Arnold & Itkin recommend working with an experienced lawyer before filing a cumulative trauma claim against a railroad employer. Our attorneys have the knowledge and resources necessary to produce the evidence required to prove causation; we are also aware of pressing issues like statute of limitations which may affect the outcome of your claim.

Hearing Loss & Deafness

Noise makes up 50% of what causes all cases of hearing loss. This is called noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). NIHL occurs when noise enters the body's auditory system through the ear canal to the eardrum. The eardrum is a sensitive membrane that expands and contracts with noise. If the ear is exposed to excessive noise levels over time, the hair cells of the ear will get overstimulated. This is where the loss of auditory senses occurs.

Per statistics, about 30 million workers throughout the U.S. are exposed to hazardous levels of noise each year. This includes individuals who work in incredibly loud railroad environments. Over time, this can cause workers to suffer significant hearing loss. While many consider the physical toll the railroad industry can take on a worker, NIHL often goes unnoticed. This condition is preventable, even if noise exposure is not.

Occupational Safety & Health Administration Noise Standards

OSHA has put standards in place for noise levels allowed in the workplace. These are listed in articles 1910.95 and 1926.52 of the handbook. If the noise level at any particular workplace is at or above 85 dB(A) for an 8-hour workday, the employer must have hearing conservation programs set in place for employees. Intermittent noises at the workplace should not exceed 140 dB(A). According to the OSHA, hearing conservation programs are put in place in order to "protect workers with significant occupational noise exposures from hearing impairment." These conservation programs require employers to monitor noise levels on a consistent basis as well as frequently calibrate their machines.

What Is Audiometric Testing?

Audiometric testing is used by employers in high noise level occupations to monitor employees' hearing over time. By testing employees' hearing, the employer can know if their noise monitoring at the railroad worksite is effective and accurately below 85 decibels. All employees who display questionable test results should be referred for further testing such as an audiological exam or an ontological exam. Employees must also be subject to baseline audiograms, which are tests that take place six months after the worker's initial exposure to noise levels. This will compare hearing from before the employee started working to their hearing after. There must also be a yearly audiogram. Those whose hearing has worsened will be labeled with a standard threshold shift (STS). Employees must be provided hearing protectors if they’re exposed to 85+ decibels for 8-hour periods and if they have STS. The hearing protectors should be at least one type of hearing plug and one type of hearing muff. If you were given a hearing protector because of STS, your employer is responsible for showing you how to properly use it.

Lead Poisoning

In a shocking statistical study, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) concluded that more than 3 million workers are exposed to unsafe levels of lead on a yearly basis. Those who work in close proximity to trains and railways are at risk for developing lead poisoning. Lead is a toxic chemical. When fumes are inhaled, it poses a great risk to the internal organs that can be permanently damaging if proper care is not taken. There is no place for lead in the body, so it only works to interfere with the healthy function of your bones, muscles, and organs. Air isn't the only way to be exposed to lead. Water that is contaminated and drunk, soil, food, and even some products can all carry levels of lead that are harmful to the body. Those who are experiencing unusual symptoms and believe that they are exposed to lead at the workplace should go see their medical provider for testing. They will likely conduct an initial blood test, urine test, and possibly X-rays.

The Different Types of Lead Poisoning

There are two major types of poisoning:

  • Acute poisoning takes place when lead is ingested in some way only one or a few times. This will cause certain symptoms that usually go away if there is not further exposure.
  • Those who work in this field typically display signs of chronic poisoning. Prolonged exposure to lead will manifest itself in a variety of different symptoms. It can affect everyone differently, making it somewhat hard to diagnose. For example, you could be experiencing problems with your nervous system like headaches, slurred speech, and insomnia. Lead also has the potential to disrupt the body's gastrointestinal functions which will result in abdominal pain and nausea.

Causes of Lead Poisoning

For children, the cause of lead poisoning is much different than that of adults. Children are most exposed to lead by way of products with lead paint, contaminated water, and even older houses that are painted with lead-based paint. Children's immune systems are much weaker than adults', so even minute lead contamination in water can have a drastic effect on their health. Adults are much different.

The most common cause of lead poisoning in adults is by way of occupational exposure. Many people who work in the train industry are those who are mechanics and perform maintenance. These individuals may be most at risk for developing high levels of lead in the body. Levels of lead in the body that are higher than the amount recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention can result in a number of diseases.

Diseases Caused by Lead Exposure

Lead exposure can affect individuals in different ways:

  • Various renal diseases can be developed, which may require dialysis or treatment for gout.
  • Lead can also affect the heart, causing high blood pressure, heart disease and cardiac arrest.
  • Both males and females may experience devastating effects on the reproductive system. It may be difficult to have children, and children born may be premature or have other diseases.
  • Finally, the other most common way that lead affects the body is by way of the nervous system.

Asbestosis

There is a long history of hazardous material being used by railroad operators. Over time, railroad workers inhale this material and suffer a number of illnesses and diseases—one being asbestosis. Asbestosis, a type of lung disease from lung tissue scarring, is caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos, which is a silicate mineral that became popular for builders in the 1800s because of its physical properties. Asbestos is strong, fire / heat resistant, and affordable. It comes in white, brown, and blue varieties. Because trains used to be insulated with asbestos, and because it used to be used as floor tiles, railroad workers are especially prone to asbestosis.

There are different symptoms to watch out for if you are a railroad worker exposed to asbestos:

  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Clubbed fingers

It is important to contact your doctor immediately if you are a railroad worker and believe you are showing the symptoms of asbestosis. Most likely, your doctor will give you a chest X-ray, CT scan of your lungs, and perform pulmonary function tests. There is no cure for asbestosis, but ceasing your exposure is absolutely necessary. There are treatments to lessen the damage such as lung fluid thinners and oxygen masks, but in extreme cases, some people may need a lung transplant. Every case is different and depends on the amount of your exposure.

Lung Cancer

As explained above, railroad workers are often exposed to amounts of toxic materials that can be extremely dangerous—even life-threatening. For example, per the United States Department of Labor, railroad workers with track repair and maintenance jobs operate machinery that disturb the railroad rock, creating clouds of silica dust which, when ingested, increases the risk of lung cancer or silicosis—which is a form of lung disease for which there is no cure. Diesel fumes, petroleum-based substances, and chemical solvents are all products that are commonly used in a typical railroad workplace. They can prove injurious and often fatal to workers.

If you believe you are at risk for lung cancer, take note of the following symptoms:

  • Chest Pain: Any recurring pain you feel along the front of your body between your neck and upper abdomen. Chest pain can also indicate other serious illnesses, so contact your doctor immediately.
  • Cough & Coughing Up Blood: A persistent cough is also a cause for concern. A typical cough usually lasts a couple of weeks at the most, so if you know you have been exposed to these types of hazardous materials and are sustaining a cough, especially coughing up blood, you may have lung cancer.
  • Shortness of Breath / Wheezing: You may feel a heaviness in your chest or rapid breathing, sometimes accompanied by a high-pitched sound when you exhale. This can be an early symptom of lung cancer.
  • Loss of Appetite & Unintended Weight Loss: Having little or no desire to eat is not normal for extended periods of time, and neither is weight loss without dieting or exercising. This symptom, especially if in connection with another of these symptoms, is cause for concern and a visit to your doctor.

Lung cancer can go unnoticed for an extended period of time, but it is extremely important to seek out legal representation if you feel as if you are suffering a disease due to hazardous materials inhaled while at your railway work environment. Lung cancer is by far the deadliest form of cancer, taking more lives every year than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined. We can fight to make sure you are provided the compensation you need after contracting a disease or illness due to exposure to hazardous materials at your job.

Mesothelioma

A rare form of cancer, mesothelioma usually develops on the outer lining of the lungs or on the inner chest wall (this area is known as the pleura). The lining on the abdominal cavity (the peritoneum) as well as the sac that surrounds the heart (the pericardium) and the sac that surrounds the testis (the tunica vaginalis) are other areas in which the cancer may manifest. Among the most common symptoms experienced by mesothelioma sufferers are weight loss, chest pain, and shortness of breath; however, these signs may take up to 50 years to start showing.

The prognosis for mesothelioma patients is poor and the treatments can be difficult to endure.

Exposure to toxic materials such as asbestos may be the most common cause of malignant mesothelioma among those plagued by the cancerous disease. Railroad workers who inhale asbestos or its dust particles on a regular basis are in great danger of later developing mesothelioma. Even the family members of railroad workers are at risk if they come in frequent contact with their loved ones who may be wearing affected clothes.

Leukemia & Benzene Exposure

While working for a railroad company, you run the risk of being exposed to toxic chemicals.

One chemical known to be present in many railroad environments is benzene. Benzene is a chemical compound that is commonly used to produce other chemicals. People are typically exposed by breathing it in. It can manifest itself as exhaust from vehicle or industrial emissions or vapors from different kinds of paints. Benzene is known to affect railroad workers because of their close proximity to train's diesel fumes. The chemical is known to cause cancer and other illnesses such as diminished immune system, anemia, and cancer such as leukemia.

Benzene in any quantity is dangerous, but railroad workers can be exposed to particularly high levels.

Leukemia is a type of blood or bone marrow cancer caused by an increase of white blood cells. There are many different kinds of leukemia, but the major division is between acute and chronic. Acute leukemia occurs when there is a quick increase of immature white blood cells, while chronic leukemia takes place after an excessive buildup of white blood cells. Chronic leukemia can take months or years to fully develop and acute leukemia requires immediate treatment. Some symptoms are anemia, abnormal headaches, and frequent infections.

If you are a railroad worker who is displaying these symptoms, you should contact a medical professional immediately. If they determine that your disease can be attributed to Benzene or other toxic chemicals you were exposed to in your work environment, then you may be entitled to financial compensation.

As a railroad worker, even though you work in a particularly dangerous occupation, there are precautions that should be taken that can prevent injury and illness. Your employer is responsible to make sure that you as a railroad worker are not exposed to avoidable health and safety risks. If you were not warned about the health risks or were not given adequate safety materials, these are signs of employer negligence. If you visit a doctor and become aware that you have contracted Benzene-related leukemia or another illness due to Benzene exposure, call us today.

Lawyer for Railroad Workers Suffering Injury & Illness

If you are suffering from a current condition or illness that is the result of work for railroads, contact Arnold & Itkin today. Our goal is to build a strong and persuasive case as quickly as possible. Should you hire our law firm, our injury attorneys will immediately go to work investigating the specifics of your case. HAZMAT safety standards and FELA can often be applied to the supportive evidence used in cases of personal injury and illness to railroad workers, and we know just how to legally pursue these types of issues. If you would like legal support for the injury or illness you have suffered while on the job, contact Arnold & Itkin LLP today. Call (888) 493-1629 to schedule a free case review.

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