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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

New FRA rule requires railroads to adopt a 'critical incident stress' plan

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) last week announced a new final rule that requires each Class I, intercity passenger railroad and commuter railroad to establish and implement a plan for employees who are under stress after being directly involved in, or a witness or responder to, a "critical incident."

To take effect on June 23, the rule responds to a Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandate that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) establish regulations to define a critical incident and require certain railroads to develop and implement critical incident stress plans, FRA officials said in a news brief.

The rule defines a critical incident as an accident or incident reportable to FRA that results in a fatality, loss of limb or serious bodily injury, or a catastrophic accident or incident reportable to FRA that could be reasonably expected to impair an employee's ability to safely perform his or her job duties. Railroads now must develop and gain USDOT approval for stress plans that provide appropriate support services to employees who are affected by a critical incident.

The rule stipulates minimum standards for leave, counseling and other support services that would help employees recognize and cope with symptoms of normal stress reactions that commonly occur as a result of a critical incident; reduce their chance of developing a disorder, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or acute stress disorder (ASD), as a result of a critical incident; and recognize symptoms of psychological disorders that sometimes occur as a result of such an incident.

The FRA anticipates that the rule's implementation will help reduce long-term health-care costs associated with treating PTSD, ASD and other stress reactions, and costs that could accrue when an employee is unable to return to work for a significant period of time or leaves a railroad due to related stress.

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