American railroad companies transport hundreds of millions of passengers and millions of carloads of freight each year. It’s a strenuous task for their employees.
“The rail business is an industry full of tired, stressed workers. It is an epidemic,” warned former railroad worker, Georgetta Gregory on the NTSB Safety Compass in 2016. Her job was very stressful and required long hours. “It wasn’t unusual for me to work 80 hours a week. I often worked overnight, evenings, weekends, and long hours. Over time, I became chronically fatigued. I gained weight and began to lose my memory and other cognitive abilities. I had no routine schedule for sleep because I worked irregular hours that were counter to my circadian rhythms. Eventually, I began to make mistakes at work and in my personal life – potentially dangerous ones.”
Railroad workers frequently operate in a dangerous environment full of heavy machinery. Their safety and the safety of others depends on their staying focused and not making mistakes. That kind of responsibility can cause severe stress for engineers, conductors, brakemen, electricians, and many other employees that keep the trains rolling on schedule.
Another source of stress is working away from home—often hundreds of miles away from friends and family for extended periods of time. At the end of a long shift, railroad workers may end up in a hotel in a different state, far away from home with nothing much to do. Being disconnected from loved ones in a stressful job may invite drug and alcohol misuse, elevating the risk of developing a substance use disorder (SUD).
Witnessing the death or serious injury of a co-worker can also be traumatic, leading to acute stress disorder (ASD) or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The risk of depression and anxiety is elevated with these diagnoses.
“Railroad and subway drivers can experience psychological trauma when trains strike or nearly miss other trains, motor vehicles, or persons or become instruments of death,” wrote psychiatry professor Kenneth Weiss in “PTSD in Railroad Drivers Under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act” (2006). “Derailments, collisions, and suicides on the tracks can induce feelings of helplessness, horror, guilt, and anxiety in the drivers. Although some drivers experience acute stress disorder (ASD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), their conditions are not always acknowledged within the occupational setting.”
Groups such as the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Association of American Railroads (AAR), and individual railroad companies are well aware of these potential mental health challenges.
These organizations provide guidance and support for railroad workers in the form of employee assistance programs (EAPs). Among other things, EAPs are intended to provide support for stress, anxiety, and depression, help with marital and family issues and help with drug and alcohol concerns.
In fact, the loved ones of railroad employees frequently require help as well. Drug and alcohol misuse often takes a heavy toll on the family dynamic. Addiction is a family disease and all major railroad companies provide EAP coverage for employees and their eligible dependents that may include counseling, legal, and financial services.
To ensure the safety of rail transportation, railroad workers rank among the most heavily drug-tested employees in the country. They complete drug screenings before they are hired; they participate in random on-the-job testing and take additional tests any time they are involved in a significant human-error incident.
It’s important to note that ASD, PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues are strong drivers of addiction. Many people with these conditions may try to self-medicate with addictive substances. Because of the harsh conditions railroad employees operate in, substance misuse can have very serious consequences—and not only for the intoxicated individual. Regular testing is intended to catch any cases of SUD before they can cause a rail tragedy.
Should the need for treatment arise, an EAP may supervise it. Employees may be required to complete residential/inpatient treatment, an intensive outpatient program, and/or counseling—otherwise, they may lose their job. They will also have to submit to frequent monitoring while their employment is on probation.
By providing a clear structure, strict supervision by such assistance programs improves the chance of a successful recovery. It is important for railroad workers to utilize EAPs and other support to get the help they need.
If you are a railroad worker suffering from addiction and/or mental health concerns, Recovery Ways wants to support you on your journey to recovery. We are experienced at addressing the specific needs of railroad workers and their eligible dependents and may be able to work directly with your EAP. Please reach out to our admissions team. They can determine how we can best work with your insurance benefits. For more information, please call us at (888) 988-5217.