Five Most Common Railroad Worker Occupational Diseases

by | Dec 13, 2021 | Injuries, Railroad Injuries

Overall, the transportation industry is much safer and more efficient than it was a hundred years ago. Think how far automobiles and airplanes have advanced in that time. Railroads are the exception. This mode of transportation has not changed substantially since the railroad companies laid the ceremonial Golden Spike, which linked the two major rail lines at the time, in 1869.

As a result, today’s railroad workers face roughly the same injury risks as those workers did more than a century ago. Occupational diseases, which are illnesses or injuries which develop over the course of more than one work shift, are perhaps the greatest hazard. Some of the more common railroad worker occupational diseases are listed below.

Because of the special risks these workers face, lawmakers enacted a special law to protect them, the Federal Employers Liability Act. If the railroad was negligent, even if this negligence did not substantially cause the injury, a Lexington personal injury attorney can obtain compensation for the victim’s economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Hearing Loss

Tens of millions of American workers are exposed to dangerously high noise levels at work every year. Railroad yards are some of the noises workplaces in Kentucky. The combination of diesel engines, clacking tracks, and clanging railroad cars could easily cause hearing loss. Noises as low as 35 decibels, which is basically a busy street corner, could cause permanent hearing loss.

If doctors intervene quickly enough, a hearing aid usually addresses the problem. But most railroad workers do not immediately see doctors when they first experience hearing issues. As a result, their conditions deteriorate. At that point, risky and invasive ear surgery is usually the only option.

In terms of partial negligence, there are several ways the railroad company could be liable under FELA. The company must either reduce noise or provide earplugs or other hearing protection. Furthermore, the company must instruct workers in the use of this equipment and explain the importance of its use.

Brain Injuries

Extremely mild concussions are part of the job for most railroad workers. These individuals often jump on and off moving cars and bang their heads in the process. Individually, these injuries are often insignificant. Over time, however, the cumulative effect of repeated blows to the head causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. 

Typically, CTE begins with memory problems and other issues which are not much more than annoying. Very quickly, however, these victims often develop dementia-like symptoms. 

Like other brain injuries, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries, CTE is permanent. Nothing can reverse the chemical changes which take place in the brain. However, extended physical therapy can ease the symptoms of brain injuries.

Incidentally, brain injury physical therapy is not like other forms of physical therapy. When patients rehabilitate other muscles and bones, progress is usually a straight line that always goes up. But brain injury physical therapy progress comes in fits and starts. So, even if there has been little progress for several weeks or months, it’s important to stay with the program. The next breakthrough may only be a session away.445

Repetitive Stress Disorders

The repetitive tasks that railroad workers perform are not just hard on their brains. They are hard on other areas of the body as well. And, joints like knees, elbows, wrists, and ankles can only take so much wear and tear before they break down. Common issues include:

  • Lateral Epicondylitis: Tennis elbow occurs when elbow tendons tear and the surrounding tissue becomes inflamed. This condition usually causes severe pain and muscle weakness. Common diagnostic tests, like X-rays, often do not detect this condition. Instead, doctors must rely on the patient’s symptoms. So, if the worker has a high pain tolerance, the condition could go undiagnosed for quite some time.
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: CTS usually affects white-collar office workers whose wrists are above their fingers as they type. The resulting pressure collapses the carpal tunnel in the wrist, pinching the bundle of nerves that pass through this tunnel. The result is intense pain which usually begins in the upper arm. As a result, doctors sometimes don’t connect this pain to CTS. Railroad workers who do a lot of fine motor skills projects often develop CTS as well.

Prompt diagnosis is usually the key in medical treatment cases. To ensure such diagnosis, given the aforementioned problems with repetitive stress injuries, attorneys usually connect railroad workers with doctors who focus on such conditions.670

Lead Poisoning

This substance has not been used in paint or other materials since the 1970s. Unfortunately for railroad workers, much of the hardware they work with every day was manufactured in the 1970s, or even earlier.

The diagnosis issues which impact repetitive stress injuries also occur in lead poisoning cases. This condition has no signature symptoms. Some people have gastrointestinal and other such issues. Others have cognitive problems, like difficulty solving problems. Still others have problems with their nervous systems, such as slurred speech or trouble sleeping.


Like lead, asbestos has not been used as a building material since the 1970s. Until then, however, it was commonly used as a fireproofing material. The Twin Towers in New York City, which were built in the 1970s, contained an estimated 200,000 pounds of asbestos. Exposure to this substance causes mesothelioma, a rare heart-lung cancer. These particles also cause asbestosis, an equally rare lung disease. The toxic fibers trigger scar tissue growth which blocks air passages in the lungs.

Asbestos is one of the most toxic substances on earth. One microscopic fiber, which could be inhaled or absorbed directly through the skin, could cause asbestosis, mesothelioma, or another serious illness.

Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters. #goodelawyers