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August 11, 2023
Norfolk Southern enters into derailment site agreement

Norfolk Southern Corp. has entered into a settlement agreement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Teamsters’ railway union to address health and safety concerns at a train derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio.

A Norfolk Southern train derailed on February 2, 2023, causing a 49-railcar pileup, including 11 tank cars of hazardous chemicals. The chemicals ignited, and the pileup burned for several days.

OSHA opened inspections on March 2, 2023, in response to a referral from the Department of Transportation to assess the concerns of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division—International Brotherhood of Teamsters about the health of workers rebuilding tracks and conducting cleanup operations near the derailment site.

During the agency’s investigations, it conducted personal and area air samplings for workers involved in site and water cleanup, including Norfolk Southern employees installing new railroad tracks at the site. OSHA continues to work closely with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); the Ohio EPA; and other federal, state, and local officials to protect workers’ safety and health as cleanup operations continue.

Under the settlement, Norfolk Southern agreed to the following:

  • Implementing a medical surveillance program for all affected employees who worked at the derailment site,
  • Providing union employees with 40 hours of hazardous waste operations and emergency response training for future derailments,
  • Creating a training program based on lessons learned from the Ohio derailment, and
  • Paying penalties assessed by OSHA for four safety and health violations.

The agency issued Norfolk Southern citations on August 2 for four violations and proposed $49,111 in penalties. OSHA cited Norfolk Southern for the following:

  • Not developing an emergency response plan that included clear lines of authority, communication and training, site security, adequate site control, and decontamination areas;
  • Failing to require workers to wear chemical-resistant footwear when walking on contaminated soil;
  • Allowing employees without respiratory protection to pour cement on potentially contaminated soil; and
  • Not providing workers with hazardous chemicals training.

OSHA also opened inspections of CTEH, an environmental consulting firm, and two other companies on-site for the cleanup—Specialized Professional Services of Washington, Pennsylvania, and Hepaco Inc. of Charlotte, North Carolina—to investigate complaints about workers exposed to chemicals as they cleaned up nearby creeks where spills killed fish. OSHA issued citations to Specialized Professional Services for inadequate control of the site and decontamination areas, which it immediately corrected. OSHA didn’t cite CTEH or Hepaco.

The agency also opened an inspection in response to reports that employees of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention became ill after visiting area homes on March 6, 2023, but issued no citations.

“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,” Howard Eberts, OSHA’s Cleveland area office director, said in an agency statement.

“We are pleased by the collaborative safety and health efforts of Norfolk Southern Corp, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division and contractors from the clean-up site who have been working together on this site remediation.”

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