Norfolk Southern Co. has agreed to a settlement deal with federal regulators and its unionized workforce to better ensure the health of workers rebuilding tracks and conducting clean-up operations near the site of a toxic derailment near East Palestine, Ohio.
The payment program follows the February 2 train derailment that caused a 49-railcar pile-up, including 11 tank cars of hazardous chemicals. As a result of the wreck, the chemicals ignited and the pile-up burned for several days. In the wake of that incident, the Atlanta-based railroad has been juggling lawsuits, Congressional investigations, and increased regulatory measures.
The latest complaints against the company alleged that its workers lacked training and protective gear despite chemical spills that killed fish in nearby creeks and sickened investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP).
To address those charges, Norfolk Southern today agreed to the new settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division.
OSHA had opened enforcement inspections on March 2 to assess the union's concerns for the health of workers rebuilding tracks and conducting clean-up operations near the derailment site. The agency also opened enforcement inspections of the railroad’s cleanup contractors for their actions in remediating the chemical spills. After completing its inspections, OSHA issued Norfolk Southern citations on August 2 for four violations and proposed $49,111 in penalties, and reported that Norfolk Southern abated the hazards immediately.
Under terms of the new settlement, Norfolk Southern agreed to:
"This agreement will improve the safety and health controls in place for Norfolk Southern employees who responded and help educate the rail operator's employees on the lessons learned so they are prepared should another emergency occur," OSHA Area Office Director Howard Eberts in Cleveland said in a release.
The actions are significant because Norfolk Southern and its subsidiaries operate about 19,300 route miles in 22 states and the District of Columbia, serving every major container port in the eastern U.S. with connections to other rail carriers, OSHA said. The company is a major transporter of industrial products, including agriculture, forest and consumer products, chemicals, and metals and construction materials, and is the largest rail shipper of auto products and metals in North America.