Federal agency to set up hot line for Metro safety problems

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Local,Transportation,Liz Essley,Metro

Federal overseers are planning to collect Metro workers' confidential complaints on "close calls" and unsafe conditions at the transit agency.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is seeking final approval to set up a hot line and website to receive the reports.

The agency expects to get about 400 reports on "close calls" every year, based on its experience with other rail networks. "Close calls" are defined as incidents that could have caused injuries or death, for example, but didn't.

"Systems that allow confidential reporting of safety violations are an important part of creating a safety culture in an organization," Justin Nisly, a U.S. Department of Transportation spokesman, said in an email. "[The U.S. DOT] is working with [Metro] and its union to set up an effective reporting system that will allow individuals to report safety concerns without fear of enforcement or disciplinary actions."

After the Red Line crash in June 2009 that killed nine people, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended Metro set up a confidential system for reporting safety information. Metro asked the federal transportation agency for help, since the agency already has a similar program for other rail networks.

"We believe that adding confidential close call reporting to the tools available to Metro employees will further enhance our safety program," Metro spokeswoman Caroline Lukas said in an email.

Metro employees can anonymously report safety problems to Metro's 24/7 "employee safety hot line" system via email or the agency's intranet, as well as directly report problems to supervisors. But the new federal system will allow officials to study "close calls" systematically, Lukas said.

Keeping the reports confidential may be crucial in getting Metro workers to report incidents, since retaliation at Metro isn't unheard of. An information technology employee was laid off in 2010 after he cooperated with Metro's inspector general on an investigation into a overbudget project, a Metro whistleblower panel ruled in November.

The "close call" reporting doesn't have a start date but is expected to begin by the end of the year, Nisly said. Employees will be able to call or go online to report incidents, and Metro and its employee union will publicize the project.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner