Metro to revamp 'safety culture' to protect employees who report problems

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Local,Markham Heid

Metro officials are overhauling the agency's internal reporting procedures to encourage employees to step forward when they spot safety issues, after transportation experts said Metro's ineffective "safety culture" was partly to blame for last year's deadly Red Line crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board reported in July that Metro's "lack of an organizational culture of safety" was among the factors that contributed to last year's horrific collision.

Matt Bassett, chairman of the Tri-State Oversight Committee, said encouraging employees to report safety concerns was vital to preventing future accidents.

"The term 'safety culture' is pretty nebulous, but a key component of a safe system is the willingness of employees to approach management and proactively inform them of safety hazards," Bassett said.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles recently told his agency's Board of Directors that a survey of Metro employees found 30 percent of those who observed a safety hazard or violation within the last year had not reported the problem.

"[Employees surveyed said] that it would be difficult for them to work amongst their peers, that the organization wouldn't do anything about the report, and that the organization would not protect them against retaliation [if they spoke up]," Sarles said.

Some Metro employees have in the past said they were reprimanded by supervisors, or experienced hostility from co-workers, if they reported safety concerns.

But according to Sarles, Metro is working to assuage those employee fears.

He said the agency has reinforced policies protecting "whistleblowers" from retaliation by co-workers, and has established a safety hotline so employees could anonymously report safety hazards.

Sarles said the agency is also working to develop measures to protect those employees who report near misses, or situations where a mistake or oversight almost leads to an incident.

"It's not about letting people off, or avoiding discipline, but about letting the organization learn about mistakes," said NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman.

Bassett said the challenge that now lies ahead for Metro will be defining parameters of the new near-miss reporting program, and getting Metro employees to buy into the agency's new safety programs.

"They have to draw the line between where they're willing to extend protection from discipline, and where they have to retain the right to discipline employees who seriously violate the rules," Bassett said. "They've made a lot of progress, but they have a long way to go."

mheid@washingtonexaminer.com

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Markham Heid

Examiner Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner