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June 22, 2009

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APTA RAIL CONFERENCE COVERAGE

Learning About Safety from CEOs Who ‘Get It’
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

Safe operation must be one of the key responsibilities for public transit operators, but they aren’t the only ones facing this challenge. Transit professionals and suppliers joined representatives of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the National Safety Council (NSC) at a June 15 luncheon in Chicago titled “Leadership and Organizational Change—Starting with the Basics and CEOs Who ‘Get It.’”

John Ulczycki, group vice president-research, communication, and advocacy, National Safety Council, explained that the session took its title from his organization’s annual “CEOs Who Get It” award, which recognizes business and community leaders whose personal understanding of safety affects their corporate culture. Sir Moir Lockhead, chief executive and deputy chairman of FirstGroup, the parent company of First Transit, was among the most recent winners of this award.

For example, Ulczycki said, Lockhead made an executive decision to ban all his employees from using cell phones while on the job. The speaker cited statistics showing that drivers speaking on cell phones, hands-free or not, are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers not using the devices—and, just as important, individual drivers run the same risk as bus and rail operators.

“Whether or not legislators ban cell phone use while driving, CEOs who ‘get it’ already have,” he added. “Texting and e-mail may bring a greater risk, but talking leads to more crashes…Eighty percent of all crashes involve distraction.”

Capt. Jeff Bayless, managing director-aviation safety with United Airlines, described how the airline has a “laser focus” on the fact that safety is the basis for everything it and its employees do. He described the “positive culture” at United, which encourages employees to self-report errors without penalizing them, and how the airline follows up on these reports.

Amy Kovalan, vice president of safety for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), offered the case study of a 2006 derailment caused by track deterioration. The investigation of this incident, she said, led to a heightened investment in infrastructure renewal, with steps including analyzing the process; using the right tools and technology for each job; repeated employee training; and auditing the results.

Michael T. Flanigon, director of FTA’s Office of Safety, called on rail operators to work toward having no right-of-way fatalities, which he called “an achievable goal.” His primary example was Norfolk Southern, a freight railroad that has won 20 consecutive E.H. Harriman Awards for safety from the Association of American Railroads.

Picking up from Ulczycki’s comments about establishing a safety culture at work, Flanigon stressed that “it’s not enough to have safety rules; you must have a strong culture of following those rules” while working for continuous improvement.

“People are going to do what’s expected of them,” added Carmen Bianco, an executive consultant with Behavioral Science Technology Inc. “We must create a culture that is truly supportive of safety,” he said, defining such a work atmosphere as a series of concentric circles: a personal safety ethic is in the center, surrounded by leadership style; best practices; and organizational culture.

Thomas F. Prendergast, chair of the APTA Standards Development Oversight Council and chief executive officer, South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority (TransLink), Burnaby, BC, presided at the luncheon program.

 

Speakers at the June 15 luncheon session include, from left, Thomas Prendergast, John Ulczycki, Capt. Jeff Bayless, Amy Kovalan, Michael T. Flanigon, and Carmen Bianco.
Photo by Brian Oh



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