Rail workers who report a “hazardous safety condition” are protected from retaliation by FRSA subsection (b)(1)(A). There are not many cases discussing the scope of that protection, but a recent federal district court decision brings it into sharper focus. Head v. Norfolk Southern Railway Company.

The 3rd Circuit was the first court to comment on (b)(1)(A). In dicta, the Circuit reasoned that while (b)(1)(A) must protect reports of railroad related safety hazards, it would not protect hazards totally unrelated to the railroad. PATH v. DOL (Bala).

In Head, the district court found that reporting bad-order tags and complaining about a utility vehicle’s lack of visibility qualified as “good faith reports of a hazardous safety condition.”  Head also discusses three other actions that qualify as (b)(1)(A) protected activities: a written statement to a trainmaster regarding unsafe walking conditions on a bridge, Foster v BNSF Railway Company; a verbal complaint about smoke in the workplace, Jackson v. Union Pacific Railroad Company; and a locomotive engineer’s refusal to continue working with a conductor who had threatened him, Leiva v. Union Pacific Railroad Company. The refusal in Leiva qualified as a “report of a hazardous safety condition” because “the level of communication between an engineer and conductor is very important and essential to the safe operation of a train.”

The take away is: the scope of (b)(1)(A) is not limited just to the condition of railroad train cars or engines. Its plain language is broad, and embraces any human or non-human condition that threatens the safety of employees or the safe operations of trains. Here is the complete text of Head v. Norfolk Southern Railway Company. For more information on the whistleblower rights of railroad workers, go to the free Rail Whistleblower Library.