As Grand Lodge recently announced, certification regulations for Signalmen have moved into the rule making phase and are open for public comment. Despite what was stated in the FRA’s summary report, we are told the BRS Grand Lodge has not been adequately consulted in this process. The result is a proposed regulation fraught with concerns because it was crafted primarily on input from Carriers’ advocate groups.
As proposed, each railroad must write its own certification program which will be approved by the FRA after considering comments from BRS for a period of 45 days. The regulation will require certification for practically all signalmen, grandfathering in existing employees who will recertify at least triennially thereafter. Employees will be certified on particular signal systems and cannot work on systems on which they have not been certified. Additionally, railroads are required to perform an annual unannounced compliance test of certified individuals. Also included are mandatory training requirements for equipment and signal rules. Certification criteria includes driving record checks and vision/hearing acuity standards. Along with this comes a requirement to furnish supporting DOT documents and certain medical information. Certification could also be revoked if one of 11 disqualifying conditions occurs. Recertification would be required after a period of suspension, the length of which depends on the severity of the cause.
There are two positive results of the proposed rule that should be noted. First, only railroads are permitted to certify employees as signalmen. Since anyone engaged in signal work would need to be certified this may diminish a railroad’s ability to use contractors. Second, the FRA’s report stated what we as Signalmen have always known. “The vast majority of tasks performed by signal employees (80–90% of the listed tasks) were critical to railroad safety with potentially catastrophic consequences, such as accidents, injuries, and/or deaths, if the tasks were not performed properly.” BRS Grand Lodge is currently engaged in discussions with the Carriers regarding the responsibility study. The FRA’s report makes a compelling argument that we have an extremely high level of responsibility and should be compensated accordingly. But we signalmen already knew this.
The regulation is too vast to cover in this short article. Director of Research Chris Hand is asking everyone to review it and email him with any questions or issues at firstname.lastname@example.org. The BRS will be submitting comments as an organization through the national office. We have a small window of time to submit public comments and steer this issue in our direction. A copy of the proposed rule can be found on our website. Please read through it and express your thoughts to the BRS as this will likely impact us all in the future.