Agency Examines Railroad Underreporting of Carpal Tunnel
The Federal Railroad Administration announced Tuesday that it will investigate a possible discrepancy between Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp.'s disclosure last week that 125 employees have claimed job-related carpal tunnel syndrome since last March and the fact that the company reported no cases of the ailment last year. The Los Angeles Times reports that the administration took notice of the case when BNSF, the nation's second-largest railroad company, announced last week that it was stopping its policy of conducting genetic tests on workers who claimed to have developed carpal tunnel syndrome on the job after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against the company. Under federal regulations, railroads that do not report workplace-related injuries face fines. George Gavalla, the FRA's associate administrator for safety, said the agency would first examine BNSF and then expand its inquiry to the entire industry if it discovered "significant underreporting." Burlington has not reported a carpal tunnel case in the past five years; spokesperson Richard Russack said that the company did not report any of the 125 cases last year because it "determined none of them was work-related," and therefore exempt from federal reporting requirements. However, Harry Zanville, an attorney for the railroad employees' union, said that in 11 of the BNSF cases, a doctor diagnosed carpal tunnel and "deemed it work-related," including one case where the company paid for corrective surgery. According to Gavalla, the railroad industry reported 11 cases of carpal tunnel in the first 11 months of 2000, compared to 117 in 1993. "Generally, we have a pretty good pulse on any kind of safety problems, and carpal tunnel is not something that's come up. So we're a little surprised," he said (Girion, Los Angeles Times, 2/21).