Confidential Close Calls Reporting: Analyzing Today's Mistakes to Prevent Tomorrow's
March 16, 2012
Making a mistake at work is something everyone tries to avoid, but the reality is that it happens. People make mistakes all the time and most are minor, but occasionally the impact is significant. At four railroad carriers involved in a pilot safety program, employees are encouraged to report their mistakes in an effort to learn about unsafe conditions before they result in harm. Volpe currently manages the program's implementation and evaluation and serves as an independent and expert advisor.
The close calls reporting system is a voluntary and confidential method for railroad carriers and their employees to report close calls without fear of disciplinary action. The program is a partnership between labor, management, and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and offers railroads an opportunity to find and fix safety concerns before people get hurt or property gets damaged. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, manage the reporting system and protect data confidentiality.
Dr. Jordan Multer of Volpe's Human Factors Research and System Application Technical Center has been involved with the Close Calls Demonstration Project since it was just an idea. Multer leads a Volpe team that is implementing the safety program to demonstrate the effectiveness of a confidential close call reporting system.
According to Multer, "the most significant challenge in standing up a program like this is creating trust among stakeholders. You can't force employees to use the system and if they don't use it, we lose the opportunity to learn from their close calls." Multer also said, "we worked hard from the start to build ownership by showing the employees and the railroad the benefits of the program." Since the pilot's inception in 2007, many benefits have been realized. Railroads can now reduce risks, and thus the likelihood of an accident, by studying close call reports. Also, with improved trust and partnerships among the FRA, railroads, and labor unions, employees are more likely to report close calls since they are assured of confidentiality and protection from retribution.
An independent Volpe evaluation team continuously monitors the program to ensure it remains effective. Dr. Joyce Ranney, also from the Human Factors Research and System Application Technical Center, leads the Volpe team that gathers data from the four demonstration sites to identify ways the system can be improved during implementation. The evaluation team uses periodic safety culture surveys, safety data and locomotive engineer de-certifications as measures of the program effectiveness.
Volpe's work on this demonstration project is one example of how Volpe helps sponsors take concepts and ideas and transition them to implemented solutions. Serving as architects in the early phase of this demonstration project, Volpe's cross-disciplinary experts worked with FRA and industry and other partners to bring the concept to reality. Volpe's evaluation experts continue to provide an objective assessment of the merits of the program and provide insights into how to improve its effectiveness. Guided by a deep understanding of the rail industry, human factors and safety management, Volpe helps make our sponsors processes more efficient, their work more effective and their solutions more fully realized.