By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Norfolk Southern Corp has agreed to improve conditions for workers rebuilding and cleaning up the site of its February derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, the U.S. Labor Department said on Wednesday.
The department said the railway company entered into the agreement with the federal government and the Teamsters’ Railway Union to enhance safety at the site following Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections.
A Norfolk Southern-operated train derailed on Feb. 3 in Ohio, causing cars carrying toxic vinyl chloride and other dangerous chemicals to spill and catch fire.
OSHA said the railroad will pay $49,111 in penalties for four violations, including for failing to require workers to wear chemical-resistant footwear when walking on contaminated soil, allowing an employee without respiratory protection to pour cement on potentially contaminated soil and not effectively communicating to workers about hazardous chemicals.
“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 OSHA Area Office Director Howard Eberts.
Under terms of the settlement, Norfolk Southern will implement a medical surveillance program for all affected employees who worked at the derailment site, provide union employees with 40 hours of Hazardous Waste Operations and emergency response training for future derailments and create a training program on “lessons learned from the Ohio derailment.”
Norfolk Southern on Wednesday said it worked closely with OSHA and the union during the investigation: “We’ve reached a resolution that provides more training for our people, exceeding OSHA requirements, and makes our responses even safer.”
CEO Alan Shaw said in March the railroad supports addressing long-term health risks through the creation of a medical compensation fund and has agreed to work with the community on programs to protect drinking water over the long term.
In March, Ohio and the U.S. Justice Department sued Norfolk Southern, seeking to ensure the railroad pays the full cost of cleanup and any long-term effects of the derailment.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Shepardson; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Deepa Babington and Jonathan Oatis)