This week is Rail Safety Week. It’s an important time to educate the public about the basics of rail safety by, for instance, reminding everyone never to approach tracks except at designated grade crossings. Additionally, it’s important to always remain alert near tracks: trains can pass at any time, are quieter than ever, and can take kilometres to come to a full stop.
And while these are very important safety messages for the public, it is important to remind ourselves that rail safety should also always mean workplace safety.
In the past four years, twelve rail workers lost their lives in a variety of derailments and workplace accidents.
Twelve preventable deaths.
Twelve families forever changed, and countless friends and colleagues forever affected.
And on top of the lives lost, we must also remember the thirty-five employees who suffered dismemberment and other life-altering injuries over the same period.
As Teamsters, we believe that any accident is one accident too many, and that nobody should go to work wondering if they will come home after their shift.
The Transportation Safety Board (TSB), an independent government agency in charge of investigating accidents and making safety recommendations, maintains a watchlist of key safety issues affecting the rail industry.
The agency has identified a need for greater government oversight in the rail sector and has recommended Transport Canada intervene faster to ensure companies take corrective measures when issues are raised.
The TSB also believes that railway companies are not proactively identifying hazards and mitigating safety risks. Their safety planning is lacking, and not delivering results.
Similarly, worker fatigue remains a major issue for the TSB. Rail workers, like most transportation workers, have irregular schedules and disrupted sleep patterns. But too often, they end up being forced to work when the science says they should be resting, leading to unacceptable safety risks.
Teamsters Canada, working with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), has been raising these concerns for years. When faced by inaction from these companies, we have even gone so far as to launch strikes and other forms of job action to see them addressed. After all, these are health and safety issues which directly affect the workplace and the public.
Our union fully supports Rail Safety Week, and the important messages rail companies will be delivering to pedestrians and motorists over the coming days.
While we might not hear as much about workers during this week, rest assured that they are at the fore of our minds, and that our union will never stop working to improve rail safety.
As always, Teamsters Canada will remember the fallen, and fight for the living.
President of Teamsters Canada
Vice President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters