Monday, January 14, 2013

I Stood Up, So Others Could Sit Down

The file I was developing on locomotive cab conditions, and in particular..., cab seating, had grown to an almost un-manageable volume. 

The seat pictured above is almost exactly the same as the one that had caused my spinal injury, and bore the same similarity to the one tested by Dr. Robertson in his study.
The major difference is the fact that the seat in my case did not have any armrests, where this one does....sort of.
Photo courtesy

Having sustained more than one injury to my lower spine while operating yard engines, as well as experiencing low back pain from similar seats on CN's road locomotives in the SD40 and SD40-2 class locomotives, I made an appointment to be seen by my doctor.  He assured me that locomotive seating might well be the culprit, and the next time I receive a jolt while riding on one of those seats, I should submit a report to WCB.   I did, and it was rejected.  I appealed the Board's judgements and was given a date and time to appear in defense of my claim.

Arriving fifteen minutes early for a hearing of my appeal of WCB's rejection of my claim that the seats provided on locomotives were the cause of personal injuries to myself and, by extension..., others as well.  The British Columbia Worker's Compensation
facility at 6951 Westminster Highway in Richmond, BC was relatively new and, by any standard, was impressive.  It was designed for the rehabilitation of injured workers, housing of those workers from outside the Greater Vancouver area, and to provide office space for the countless employees and managers of the Board. 

By pre-arrangement, I arrived at the Board's main lobby with a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, Mark Robb, and one other gentleman who I will introduce to you a bit later. We were ushered into a comfortable seating area and asked to wait while the Board's representatives met with CN's people for a strategy conference. 

While we waited, we went over the presentation I had prepared, along with the documentation that was intended to support my case.

Yes, it was my case.  I had suffered injuries to my lower back and upper thighs while operating CN's GR12, aka SW1200RS switching locomotives.  The seats were very poorly designed, and were a constant source of complaint, particularly by the younger engineers that had come from the ranks of the switchmen and trainmen.  The older, "scoop shovel" hoggers didn't seem to find the seats all that bad.  In fact, they felt that the seats in question were a great deal more comfortable than the seats on the steam locomotives of their younger years.  Therefore, relatively speaking..., they didn't feel that there was all that much to complain about. 

 I felt confident that I was prepared for whatever arguments that the adjudicator could make in the Board's, and the Company's interest.  I had served as a Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) representative on CN's Cab Committee in the Greater Vancouver Terminal.  Being a type "A" personality, I felt that the Cab Committee meetings were being held far too infrequently, and with a large number of issues to be dealt with, the 'committee' couldn't brag about its progress in resolving outstanding issues.  It had bogged down with much letter-writing, phone-calling, inter-departmental meetings over lunch and other time-killing activities. 

I felt that much could be done to hasten the resolution of the multitude of problems that all sides agreed upon, simply by 'getting it done.'  This was not happening.

I found out that CP's engineers were having similar problems with their locomotive cab conditions, and soon I was sharing information, documentation and resources with a number of engineers and ESB's from across the river... (CPR).

Cab seat upgraded somewhat by 1990.  This was taken at North Vancouver while on board a re-built GP9RM  Shown below
Don Birch photo
RBH collection

Image courtesy James Gardner and

I had realized that, in order to press outstanding cab conditions to the goal line, I would have to create strong evidence that would overcome the railway's objections to the upgrades in seating and other cab conditions that engineers deemed to be necessary for a safe, healthy and comfortable work environment. 

With that in mind, I had set in motion a plan to establish an irrufutable record of engineer's complaints regarding cab conditions.  CN required that, at the end of every shift or tour of duty, engineers must fill out a Work Report (CN form 538-D) for the engine consist that had been assigned that day.  Since every engineer carried a type of ancient duplicating paper called 'carbon paper', I spread the word among the crews that I was taking a survey of cab condition complaints to present to the railway as solid, documented proof of the number and scope of the problems that were being encountered on a daily basis. I asked every engineer to make a duplicate of his 538-D's and drop them into a metal box that I had made in the car shop for the purpose, and installed in the engineers locker rooms at Port Mann. 

My friends in the Port Mann Car Shop did a great job on my requested box.  It was made of galvanized steel and provided for two boxes, one to serve as a receptacle for the 'reverse levers' that CN mandated were to be taken from all engines at the end of a trip or shift and brought to a secure area inside the crew assembly building. The second box, mounted beside the first on a steel frame, had a slotted lid to accept the work reports, or 538-D's submitted by engineers who were coming off shift.  Two copies were put into the box; one for the locomotive foreman, and the other, folded and placed inside an envelope was left for the Cab Committee. 

Engineers who worked in other yards within the Greater Vancouver Terminal slipped copies of their work reports into CN's OCS (On Company Service) mail system, addressed to me at Port Mann. 

At least twice a week, I cleaned out the box and compiled the reports under 'engine number', and yard/location.  In short order, I had accumulated a substantial number of locomotive defect reports, many of which pointed to defective, or uncomfortable seats.

The clerk/stenographer who was assigned to record our meeting on this day approached us, saying that the hearing was about to begin.  We were asked to join the group already seated in the board room.  I asked Mr. Robb to join me, while my mystery guest waited for me to ask him to join us..., at an appropriate time.

Stepping into the room, we were introduced to Mr. Rowland, for the Board, Ms. Shelley Cook, for CN's Claims Dept., and Mr. C.J. Loader, Master Mechanic, Transportation department,  Thornton.

Mr. Rowland spent several minutes telling us about the seats in his Saab automobile, and how, if traffic was heavy, he felt fatigued and a bit strained by the time he had finished his half-hour drive to work.  He pointed out that he didn't feel compelled to initiate a claim for back pain, and that perhaps I should simply take a break every half hour or so; get up an stretch my legs, or take a little walk.  I glanced at Mr. Loader.  He looked away, but I could see a bit of a smile at the corner of his mouth.  He knew me, and imagined what my reply to Mr. Rowland might be on that point. 

He was correct in his assumption.  Mr. Rowland didn't bring up the matter of his $30,000.00 Saab again.

Ms. Cook suggested that since I was the only engineer in Canada who found the seats to be problematic, she would ask the Transportation Department, through Mr. Loader, to have me assessed by a CNR doctor to ascertain whether I might be better off in another line of employment.  Again, Mr. Loader shifted his attention to a spot on the wall.  He knew that I had been collecting 538-D's for months, and it was obvious that he hadn't volunteered that bit of information to the others in the room beforehand.

When Ms. Cook, feeling confident that the matter would soon be ended..., in CN's favour, stopped and looked menacingly at me, I asked for a moment while I reached into my brief case to retrieve some supportive documents.

Standing, I set a pile of 86 538-D's in front of Mr. Rowland.  Then, turning toward Ms. Cook and looking directly into her eyes, I slowly returned to my seat.

Mr. Rowland took a few moments for a brief look at the documents, each of which were filled out by working engineers, dated and signed, outlining problems they had encountered with locomotive seats..., with each locomotive number written on the front of the page.

Mr. Rowland took a long sip from his water glass and, clearing his throat, admitted that these reports 'appeared' to be genuine.  However, he felt that the engineers who had provided these statements were not 'experts' in the field, and without expert opinion, he felt that my appeal in case number XC83066634 would have to be denied.

Without raising his eyes, he suggested that perhaps Federal Regulators would have looked at the seats, and if there was a problem, would have made some noise about it.

Source: Google search.  Photographer not identified
Locomotive seat covered in non-breathing vinyl has very adjustment capability.

I then produced a document titled:

I quote....

"A Review of Safety and Health Conditions Affecting Employees In the Operating Cabs of Diesel Units In British Columbia"
 Conducted and written by Mr. A. W. Taggart, Chief of Operations, Railway Transport Committee, Pacific Region.

With respect to SEATING, Mr. Taggart's report stated that:

- acknowledged design shortcomings re: lumbar support and adjustment capabilities...

- difficulties during switching operations,

- stressful postures assumed due to poor visibility and poor cab design,

- seat swivels only minor degree,

- location of Safety Control Foot Pedal complicates postural adjustments,

- seating provided is singularly unimpressive,

- part of problem is basic layout design, or lack of same,

- lack of adequate, well organized work space,

- design of mounting and adjustment mechanism antiquated in view of hydraulic and shock/vibration suppression technology,

- strained posturing is a known primary cause of fatigue and back strain,

- It has been a depressing exercise to survey such a preponderance of misaligned, loose, tilted, leaning, dis-functioning, and uncomfortable seats as were observed in the course of this review.

Further, the report stated that;

Effective 01, June 1986, that R.T.C. field officers will, while under-taking routine inspections, prohibit any unit of an engine consist from operating in the lead or controlling position unless it has...  'seating which is equivalent to .... Mount Royal (MRTE Mark 11, etc.,) et al......

And...., (The icing on the cake as far as Mark and I were concerned...the following)

 (F) It is recommended that the C.N. Vice-President of Operations be invited to appear before the Railway Transport Committee to provide enlightenment regarding Company policy concerning Occupational Safety and Health legislation in light of....

a) correspondence reviewed during the course of this study,

b) the frequently enunciated understanding by lower level managers that System policy dictates reactions to field conditions,

c) the data presented in this report.

A similar invitation to be extended to CP Rail."

End quote.

Photo courtesy of Andy Cassidy

"Well, ah..., that's a pretty thorough report, but again...., it's not an 'expert' opinion, per se..." said Mr. Rowland.

"Pardon me", I said. "Did you just say that if I could provide 'Expert Opinion' on the suitability of these seats, the Board would have to accept my appeal?" 

"Well, no..., I..., ah."

"Well, what did you mean?"

"I meant that the Board would have to take a 'serious look' at your appeal."  "I can't speak for the Board".

With a quick look toward BLE Legislative Representative, Mark Robb, I asked if I might step out of the room for a moment to collect my thoughts. 

Mr. Rowland agreed, saying that I could have five minutes, as the clock was running down on the time allotted for my presentation.

I left the room and went out to the waiting area to speak to my mystery guest.

With my guest following closely, I re-entered the room.  Mark had already pulled another chair away from the wall and placed it for my guest to sit at the table.

Before we actually sat down, I introduced my guest to the others in the room.

He was Doctor Gordon E. Robertson, B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biomechanics, School of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of British Columbia.

Doctor Robertson had written his Doctoral Thesis on the subject of "Seating in Industry". 

"Would Dr. Robertson's testimony be sufficient to satisfy the criterion of 'Expert Witness', Mr. Rowland?" I asked.

"Well...., ah..., while Dr. Robertson's credentials are impressive...., ah, well..., the study of a tractor seat really can't be compared to a locomotive seat, can it....?" he said. "We'd really rather see a proper 'study' that had been done on the locomotive seat that you claim caused your injury," he said with some satisfaction.

To that, I turned to Dr. Robertson and said...., "Dr. Robertson, you're on..."

Dr. Robertson then presented the meeting with copies of his report, titled..
"Low Back Pain in Locomotive Engineer's Seating".
Dr. Gordon E. Robertson, B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biomechanics
School of Physical Education and Recreation
University of British Columbia
Prepared for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers
Division 945, Vancouver BC
14 May 1984

The seat that had been provided to Dr. Robertson for his evaluation was taken from the cab of the CN 1284, shortly after I had been injured while running that locomotive. 

Bruce Harvey photo. 
Gave this young rail fan and his grandfather a tour of the engine. 
 Lumby sub in 1998.

Doctor Robertson's ten-page report spoke to the inadequacies of the locomotive seat and, made recommendations, including, but not limited to, the complete replacement of the offending seat with one of better design (Dr. Robertson offered design recommendations), as well as suggestions for better cab design that would help alleviate strain and discomfort which accompanies the physical attitudes of one's body while performing one's duties in the cab of locomotives.

When Dr. Robertson had wrapped up his 'expert' testimony, Mr. Rowland sat quietly for a moment, then asked everyone at the table if they had any closing comments.

Mr. Robb commented on the WCB's ineffectiveness as a functionary in Health and Safety matters at CN, due to the fact that WCB investigators are not allowed onto CN property, except at the invitation of CN.  This is because CN is a federally regulated entity and WCB has only provincial jurisdiction.

Mr. Loader volunteered that the seats have been problematic for many years and that many meetings have been attended and many letters and phone calls have been made, but no changes have been made.

Ms. Cook said nothing.

Three months later, I received a letter from the WCB Board of Appeal.   My claim had been denied due to my failure to prove beyond a doubt that the injury I had claimed, was actually caused by the locomotive seat in question.

Dr. Robertson moved to the University of Ottawa not long after this event took place, and has since retired there, to spend his spare time, camera in hand photographing wildlife in various locales around the world.

I can't thank you enough, Dr, Robertson..., for not putting limits on the time and effort you put into helping me, and helping locomotive engineers across the country get better seating for the incredibly long hours they spend at the throttle.


Bruce Harvey
CN Engineer