Safety and OSHA News

Feds say poor safety culture to blame for railroad’s deaths, crashes

On-time performance trumped safety, according to a report from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) about the troubled Metro-North Railroad that provides service between New York City and Connecticut. In December, a crash killed four people.

Metro-North suffered from a “deficient safety culture” that emphasized on-time performance over protecting workers and riders, according to the FRA report dubbed Operation Deep Dive.

The report was ordered as a result of a derailment on Dec. 1, 2013 that killed four passengers and injured more than 70 others.

But that’s not the only safety-related incident Metro-North has experienced recently. Also in 2013:

  • a collision in May injured scores of passengers
  • two weeks later, a track foreman was killed when he was struck after a trainee rail controller opened a stretch of track without proper clearance, and
  • a freight train derailed in July.

While the railroad has been working on improving its safety program, a recent incident may point to the amount of work that needs to be done. On March 10, a worker was struck and killed while working on tracks.

The railroad is taking “aggressive actions to affirm that safety is the most important factor in railroad operations,” said Joseph Giulietti, Metro-North President, in a statement in reaction to the report.

Metro-North’s previous president resigned in the face of its 2013 problems.

‘Urgent call to action’

The NRA report reads like a tale of how poor safety practices can create huge problems for any type of employer. Among the points in the report:

  • Workers struggled to find the time to perform essential repairs
  • Managers pressured workers to fix equipment failures as quickly as possible to have minimum impact to on-time performance
  • There was confusion about cell phone policies, so workers used them regularly and the practice was accepted
  • Employees suffered from inadequate training
  • Safety meetings were poorly attended, and
  • Employees lacked experience because of high turnover due to retirements.

The report said this was “an urgent call to action” to Metro-North’s leadership to improve safety and maintenance.

Luck ran out

After the December derailment, some noted that Metro-North’s safety record had been mostly clean from the 1980s through 2012.

But, as safety pros know, a lack of incidents doesn’t mean an employer has a good safety culture.

U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (NY) may have summed it up the best. “Sometimes people skirt the rules and they just have good luck.”

Seems like Metro-North’s good safety luck ran out in 2013.

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