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OSHA fines Norfolk Southern for firing three workers after they reported workplace injuries

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 2:54 p.m.

Federal safety regulators ordered Norfolk Southern Railway Co. to pay two Pittsburgh workers and one Chicago worker $1.1 million for firing them after they reported workplace injuries, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration said on Thursday.

The railroad violated whistle-blower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act in all three instances and repeatedly violated the act in the past two years, the agency said in a statement.

“The Labor Department's responsibility is to protect all employees, including those in the railroad industry, from retaliation for exercising these basic worker rights,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of Labor for occupational safety and health. “Railroad workers must be able to report work-related injuries without fear of retaliation.”

Dave Pidgeon, the company's spokesman in Pennsylvania, said the order “disappointed and surprised” Norfolk Southern because the railroad and the three employees were still in mediation proceedings attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.

The order comes out of a one-sided process in which the railroad was not allowed to cross-examine witnesses, but the company will appeal the decision to an administrative law judge.

“This will have the effect of voiding the decision and starting over under normal legal proceedings,” Pidgeon said.

Norfolk Southern Railway is a subsidiary of Norfolk Southern Corp. in Norfolk.

OSHA said the railroad management fired all three workers under a claim that they made “false statements” about their injuries.

In the Pittsburgh case, the workers initially declined treatment for injuries from a motor vehicle accident involving their work truck but subsequently sought treatment. The company fired them for filing “false and conflicting” reports about the extent of their injuries, the agency said.

OSHA ordered the railroad to pay the workers $683,508 in compensatory and punitive damages and pay their attorney fees.

In the Chicago case, the agency told the company to pay an injured worker $437,591.70 in damages.

The agency declined to identify the workers. The company has 30 days to appeal the orders.

Brian Bowling is a staff writerfor Trib Total media. He canbe reached at 412-325-4301or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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