Three Common Railroad Worker Occupational Diseases

by | Jun 7, 2021 | Railroad Injuries, Railroad Workers

An occupational disease is a job-related illness which arises over the course of more than one work shift. Due to the hazardous and repetitive nature of their jobs, railroad workers are especially susceptible to these injuries. So, if you worked the rails and you have one of the conditions mentioned below, there’s probably a connection.

Occupational diseases often involve pre-existing conditions. Certain victims have certain vulnerabilities to certain conditions. Generally, full compensation is available in these situations.

The Federal Employers Liability Act guarantees compensation, if the victim can prove that the railroad was negligent in any way. Victims don’t have to prove cause. They just have to prove a lack of care. 

This legal rule, along with the aforementioned pre-existing conditions, usually makes these cases rather complex. Our Lexington personal injury attorneys focus on such complex matters. So, we’ve developed proven methods over the years. In fact, we are usually able to resolve these injury claims out of court.

Repetitive Stress/Cumulative Trauma

These injuries are also known as “wear-out” injuries. Day in and day out, most railroad workers walk over ballast (the pebbles which surround railroad tracks), throw switches, mount/dismount vibrating cars, and otherwise do the same things over and over. The body can only take so much repetitive stress. Over time, these workers often develop conditions like:

  • Lateral Epicondylitis: Tennis elbow is basically tendonitis. Repeated elbow flexing damages the tendons in this area. Symptoms include pain and weakness. This injury is difficult to diagnose, because it doesn’t show up on X-rays and other diagnostic tests.
  • Bursitis: Repetitive shoulder motions erode the bursa sac, which cushions this joint. In extreme cases, the bursa sac could burst. If you feel a sharp pain in your shoulder, but only when you move it, that’s probably bursitis.
  • Carpal Tunnel: This similar injury usually affects people who grip tools and elevate their wrists above their elbows. That’s pretty much every railroad worker. The nerve which passes through the narrow carpal tunnel of bone becomes inflamed, causing pain similar to a pinched nerve.

To obtain FELA compensation, victims must prove that a work-related hazard, as opposed to an everyday hazard, caused the injury.

Lead Poisoning

Most people believe that rusty or bad water pipes cause most lead poisoning cases. But job-related exposure laps the field in this area. As many as three million workers, mostly outdoor workers, show symptoms of lead poisoning.

Lawmakers outlawed lead paint decades ago. But many bridges, railroad cars, and other equipment were built well before this ban took effect. So, the paint on them is laced with high levels of this dangerous heavy metal. Welders, or people who work near welders, are especially at risk for these serious injuries.

Most railroad workers are chronic lead poisoning victims. Microscopic lead levels build up in the body over time. Chronic lead poisoning has a number of unrelated symptoms, from headaches to reproductive problems to gastrointestinal issues. So, as a rule of thumb, if something is not right with your body or mind, lead poisoning could be a possibility.

Eventually, lead causes heart disease and some other chronic health conditions. These illnesses themselves are permanent, because of the lead levels in the body. But doctors can address the symptoms.

Hearing Loss

NIHL (Noise-Induced Hearing Loss) is probably the most common occupational disease in Kentucky. Railroad workers aren’t the only ones at risk. Prolonged exposure to sounds as low as 35 decibels, which is basically a school cafeteria, could cause permanent hearing loss.

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) NIHL rules begin at 85 decibels. At that point, employers must provide earplugs or other protective devices. Intermittent workplace noises can never exceed 140 decibels, no matter what protective equipment the employer provides.

Incidentally, employers cannot simply provide hearing protection and walk away. They must train employees to properly use these devices.

In most cases, audiometric test results conclusively establish noise levels on the tracks and in railroad yards. These test results also show how employees are responding to workplace noise levels. If these results indicate noise levels were too high or employees weren’t properly protected, that’s probably enough to establish a FELA claim. These victims need not show a causal relationship between employer negligence and their injuries. A lack of care is sufficient.

Railroad workers risk various occupational diseases. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Fayette County and nearby jurisdictions. #goodelawyers