Allen Hazen wrote:Since Kansas City Southern is in Group B, I take it that the only contestants for the Group A award are the four biggest railroad companies? So BNSF would be the only one that didn't get some sort of medal.
Re: NSroadcond's comment around this time in 2009. NS has long had the reputation of being more "military" and authoritarian in its management style than other big railroads. (I've been reading Rush Loving's book "The Men who Loved Trains" about northeastern railroad in the 1960s--1990s: NS's "corporate culture" was a relevant issue in the negotiations leading to the split of Conrail between NS and CSX, many CR employees not wanting to be taken over by NS.) So I've wondered how to interpret its long "winning streak" in the Harriman awards. Possibilities that come to mind include:
A--- that authoritarian style is actually effective in reducing accidents
B--- that authoritarian style leads NS staff to be reluctant to report injuries
C--- there's some OTHER factor (environment in which the NS operates?), unrelated to management style, that accounts for it
C would be surprising: after all, CSX and NS operate in the same parts of the country, so hire from the same labor market and operate in the same weather conditions.
As to B, the article MEC407 links to says the award was based on FRA data. So, if B is the case, NS has to be encouraging literally criminal failure to report reportable stuff to the relevant federal regulators.
As to A... well, a controlling management style that makes for safe operations doesn't have to be one that makes the company pleasant to work for: as a total outsider, I'm at least willing to consider it as a possibility that "all those surprise rules checks" DO "pay off" for NS. But, to repeat, I'm a total outsider, and, frankly, I am just PUZZLED how one company(*) has managed to dominate the "safety stakes" for so long.
(*) Before the NS merger, didn't N&W have quite a series of Harrimans? In which case the "winning streak" for N&W and corporate successor is even more amazing.
Item "B" is simply not true! While I agree with the general assessment of NS's overall management style, this particular judgement is inaccurate! I have BEEN there. If anyone did not report ANY accident no matter how small (I can only speak for my department [Engineering]) from the lowest laborer to a manager, he would be taken out of service because it violates FRA rules and Norfolk Southern General Conduct and Safety Rules. No doubt it happened
but one risked discipline or outright dismissal.
How do they REALLY do it? Safety meeting are held before every shift in all departments (when I was there). A safety rule is read and discussed from the General Conduct Rule Book. Employees then do a schedule of stretches and exercises as per the Company Medical Dept. Each department has a "Safety Committee". EACH employee WILL serve on that committee for 30 day stretches at least ONCE per year. Each week, a Safety Audit is performed where the team (and his supervisor, I believe) walks the property, looks for violations and hazards. These are "written up" and given to the supervisor(s) for correction. If it is a machine malfunctioning, it is subject to "Lockout-Tagout" whereby the person (and it isn't just someone on the safety commitee) goes and gets a lock and 2 keys. ANY employee can declare a safety hazard and it MUST not be ignored by company rules! The machine is then shut down, and locked OUT until repaired and both the supervisor AND the employee who locked out the machine must unlock it and return it to service after it has been corrected. Hazards are reported and MUST be acted upon immediately. It can be anything: oil on the floor, leaking fluids, sparks near flammable materials---OR unsafe behavior of employees. Yeah, it sounds like "tattling" and it is. But the theory is, IF someone is doing something unsafe, better to "rat" than to have that employee get killed because he was doing something unsafe OR violating established safety rules. People also get into unsafe habits and don't even realize it. They may become defensive if asked about it or asked to change. NS forces safety changes on its employees, and that is one of the ways they have won Harriman Awards so regularly. I saw some horrific accidents on Southern/NS before these policies were instituted, and I must say, grudgingly, they are on the right track!
Yes, the NS culture is harsh! I know: I LIVED it! But they DO reduce accidents with their methods; Intimidation, Safety Audits, revisions in methods and standards, both in hazards, equipment, and employee behavior modification. You can HATE 'em ( I sometimes did) or you can acknowledge their success however they are doing it!