A railroad worker with a bad back can’t do his job safely. Many of the FELA cases that I have worked on as a FELA lawyer in Portsmouth, Virginia (VA) involve this central fact. When a railroad worker hurts his back it can often be the end of his railroad career. Most railroad jobs involve heavy lifting up to 100 pounds in all railroad crafts. A railroad engineer or conductor may be required to lift a knuckleweighing between 50 and 100 pounds. Maintenance of way workers on the major railroads like Norfolk Southern and CSX, routinely lift between 50 and 100 pounds as part of their heavy duty jobs as laborers, trackmen, or machine operators. If you have a back injury an orthopedic doctorwill typically limit you to lifting 10 to 20 pounds maximum.
So, in many FELA cases, a back injury can be the end of a railroad worker’s career. They can’t safely lift the heavy weights involved in their rail jobs. Unlike an office worker who might only have to lift 10 pounds regularly, railroad workers are expected to be able to carry much more. Sometimes the railroad will claim that they can replace a conductor or maintenance of way worker in a job as “clerk”. However, what clerks are typically required to do on the railroad involves janitorial work and other tasks that often involve lifting up to 50 pounds. As the railroad has eliminated jobs there are less and less clerks in the system and most things are done remotely at operations headquarters like the Jacksonville center for CSX operations in Florida (FL).
Beyond just the lifting most jobs around the railroad involve being able to pull your self up a set of ladders onto rail equipment like a train, car, or locomotive cab and trudging across long distances on loose big rocks called ballast which supports the railroad track structure. If you have a back injury on the railroad the chances are that you will hurt your back worse by continuing to work and possibly risk hurting other people on the job. That is why a permanent back injury usually means the end of a railroader’s career. The FELA law was created in recognition that the railroad industry is a particularly dangerous one and that railroad workers should be provided with a special system of protection for their safety and compensation when they get hurt on the job.