You may think you’ve heard this story before. A railroad company that is sued for exposing workers to asbestos is not an isolated incident. Sadly, because of the extreme levels of exposure and negligence in the industry historically, many workers are only now seeing the damage that was done to them. In another class action lawsuit, BNSF Railway is being sued by former railroad workers who developed serious lung diseases while on the job.
This is at least the third group of former BNSF workers who have filed a lawsuit against the company. Their claim, like many others, is that the company knowingly allowed workers to come into significant contact with asbestos, which they also knew to be toxic. No protective equipment was issued, no warnings were given and workers were never made aware of the dangers associated with their work environment.
This type of negligence is serious. By not giving proper warnings or protection to employees, railroad companies violated serious federal laws, not to mention the damage they caused to their own workers. According to the lawsuit, BNSF officials knew about the dangers associated with asbestos since the 1970s when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration banned the substance from being used.
From brake pads to insulation, asbestos was commonly used in materials for railroads as it was cheap and fire-resistant. When these pieces of equipment started to wear down, though, asbestos dust was released in the air. Those working on the trains commonly breathed this in, which ultimately caused irreparable damage. But even after the ban by OSHA, railroad companies continued to use asbestos in equipment designed to protect the train. The whole time, however, many did nothing to protect workers.
Because lung disease, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses often take at least 10 years to emerge, tracking the point of exposure can be difficult. However, because there have been so many documented cases of BNSF employees who have developed occupational diseases, it is impossible to ignore that connection. As time goes by, it will not be surprising to find that more railroad workers are diagnosed with asbestos-related lung diseases.
Source: Star-Telegram, “Former BNSF employees sue railroad over asbestos exposure,” Elizabeth Campbell, June 16, 2012