Norfolk Southern to pay fines, improve safety at Ohio derailment site

The railroad reached a settlement with OSHA after several workplace safety and health investigations.

Atlanta-based Norfolk Southern has been cited for four worker safety and health violations at the site of its East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment, and faces nearly $50,000 in proposed federal penalties, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The railroad reached a settlement with the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and a labor union in which it agrees to pay the penalties, start a medical surveillance program for affected employees who worked at the derailment site, and add training for employees. Federal labor officials said they have completed several workplace safety and health investigations since a Norfolk Southern train derailed in the eastern Ohio city Feb. 3. A controlled burn of volatile chemicals from wrecked tanker cars days later resulted in an evacuation of the area and concerns about long-term environmental and health problems.

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

The four violations OSHA cited Norfolk Southern for primarily relate to work on Feb. 4, the day after the derailment, as crews rebuilt tracks and laid them out. The citations were for not developing an emergency response plan, not requiring workers to wear chemical resistant footwear on contaminated soil, allowing an employee to pour cement on potentially contaminated soil without respiratory protection, and not training workers about hazardous chemicals. Norfolk Southern then “abated the hazards immediately,” according to the Labor Department.

Norfolk Southern spokesman Connor Spielmaker said in a written statement that “the health and safety of our employees is paramount” and said the railroad, OSHA and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division-International Brotherhood of Teamsters worked closely through the investigation.

“We’ve reached a resolution that provides more training for our people, exceeding OSHA requirements, and makes our responses even safer,” he said.

Also Wednesday, Norfolk Southern announced it has purchased property in East Palestine for a permanent field office there. Since the derailment, the railroad has leased space in a Methodist church for its operations and community engagement.

Norfolk Southern agreed to provide hazardous waste operations and emergency response training for union employees for future derailments, and to create a training program on lessons learned from the Ohio derailment.

After complaints about workers being exposed to chemicals while they cleaned up contaminated creeks nearby, the agency also started enforcement inspections and cited Specialized Professional Services, a company onsite for the cleanup, for “inadequate control of the site and decontamination areas,” which it said the company immediately corrected.