New safety push aims at rail culture

August 12, 2008

WASHINGTON — Railroads, the Federal Railroad Administration, and labor organizations, including the UTU, launched on Aug. 12 a new and formal effort to improve workplace safety through an emphasis on cooperation and education and a de-emphasis on aggressive discipline.

FRA Administrator Joseph Boardman termed the effort “a new risk-based approach to identify and correct safety issues before they result in train accidents and employee injuries.” Its official name is the Risk Reduction Program (RRP).

“Fixing something after it breaks or writing rule-violation notices is increasingly unlikely to result in significant additional gains in rail safety,” Boardman said in introducing the RRP at a meeting attended by carrier CEOs, FRA senior safety staff, UTU International President Mike Futhey and officials of other labor organizations.

Creation of the RRP follows several risk-reduction pilot projects.

Its initiative is to “develop innovative methods, processes and technologies to address the contributing risk factors that result in train accidents and employee injuries,” Boardman said.

“For example, a conventional approach to prevent train derailments is to search for and fix any broken joint bars that connect two sections of track. A risk-based strategy will focus on identifying the precursors that indicate a joint bar might break followed by proper preventive maintenance before it fails,” Boardman said.

The RRP framework is intended to encourage “voluntary participation of railroads and labor on projects that target specific risk categories such as confidential close-call reporting systems, peer-to-peer accident prevention strategies, and fatigue risk-management programs,” Boardman said. “It will be necessary for railroads to develop and strengthen their safety cultures so that the risk-based approach to safety eventually becomes second nature.”

Futhey described carrier officers, labor officials and FRA senior safety staff in attendance as “anxious to roll-up their sleeves and make this work.

“The UTU has a history of standing ready to participate in any program to help assure our members return home to their families in one piece,” Futhey said. “This program is intended finally to put to rest an adversarial culture that sometimes exists in the railroad industry. The UTU supports a culture of education rather than a culture of discipline.”

Boardman also presented “distinguished public service” awards to the UTU, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and Union Pacific Railroad for their partnership in two effective risk-reduction demonstration projects — the Changing At-Risk Behavior (CAB) project, and the Safety Through Employees Exercising Leadership (STEEL) project.

The CAB project resulted in an 80 percent reduction of the targeted behavior, and the STEEL project removed more than 75 barriers to safety, Boardman said.

The awards recognized successful pilot projects on UP’s San Antonio and Livonia, La., service units. UTU members recognized by Boardman for their participation in these projects were John Dunn and Kelvin Phillips, both of Local 756, and Thomas Albarado and James “Greg” Schnabel, both of Local 1836.

To learn more about RRP, CAB and STEEL, click on the following links: