Be committed to what really matters: Safety First

“I hope no one has to go through that in the rest of their life”  The words of  a former U.S. Army soldier who now works at CSX.

CSX is the biggest railroad company East of the Mississippi and prides itself on providing jobs for veterans. One in five of its workforce is a former member of the armed services and many of them are wounded warriors. The soldier was speaking in a safety video made by the railroad’s operational training center. He was remembering his experience in the red zone near Baghdad. The truck in front of his was blown up just yards in front of him ” We spent the next two and a half hours picking up bits of our best friends. We thought we could save the medic but he died too in the medivac chopper. We lost everyone on that truck. I wish we had spoken up when the Sergeant asked us to follow him on to the overlook. We had been told to stay away, told that it wasn’t safe but when he led we just nerved up and followed him”

CSX uses this story to help their new recruits understand the importance of standing up for safety. They teach every new recruit, no matter what their job, to put safety first. All new hires start their career with the company by attending training. Safety is the topic first thing on their first day and every day thereafter. The company slogan is Safety Attendance Attitude. They want their staff to show up ready and willing to work, and to go home at night with all their limbs intact. They teach their employees to have Courge to ACT–Approach anyone taking a shortcut or taking a risk. Convince the careless to take a safer route. And then Thank them for listening. There are some tough nuts working on the railroad, so the recruits are given training in assertiveness and conflict resolution. It seems to be working. Newbies have approached the CEO and asked him not to walk with his hands in his pockets, or while talking on his cell phone, two minor safety violations. Today, one of our group was firmly reminded that he should always use the handrail when walking downstairs. If one of us left our meeting room to use the bathroom, our host deftly tucked the newly vacated chair under the conference table lest it be a tripping hazard or an obstacle on the way to the emergency exit. CSX trains everyone in CPR and begins every meeting, no matter who is attending or what it is about, by naming the individual in the room who will take charge in case of fire or a health emergency. The room number and address is written in plain sight in the corner of every room.

The training facility has not seen a workplace injury in 1673 days, which represents more than 2.5 million man hours. Amazing when you think that they are teaching thousands of people to move freight trains weighing many tons, welding metal at ferocious temperatures, laying track using lethal metal spikes and learning how to switch locomotives between tracks. The last injury, in January 2007, was stupid and simple: someone caught his thumb in a hinged classroom door.

CSX wants its workforce to be committed to what really matters–their own health and safety. They have created a culture with safety at its center. New staff members are invited to bring a picture to work, sharing an image of the people and places they love the most . They are asked to write down how a bad accident at work would change everything they care about. The company has asked the children of employees to imagine what would happen at home if their dad or mom was hurt at work. The children’s answers are displayed together with many pictures in an alcove at the training center. Every new member of staff must score at least 85% on what is called The Life Critical Test before they are a member of the permanent staff. Fail the test and you’re out.

The company used to leave safety training to the unions until they worked out that this meant their staff felt much more kinship with organized labor than with the organization that paid their wages and benefits. Originally, they moved safety training in-house so they could build employee loyalty. It worked. Then their injury statistics plummeted–good for morale and for productivity. Then customers started to ask them to provide training for their staffs–great relationship building and also welcome revenue. The story of CSX is a great case study in the importance of living your values, leading change by consistent, visible, confident example–and reaping the rewards.

See photos of CSX Freight trains here

Working on the railroad

Tomorrow I will join a group of people finding out what it takes to be a professional rail worker, learning the work of conductors, locomotive engineers and track switchers. I will be in safe hands–let’s just hope I don’t do something stupid, clumsy or careless and become the center’s second injury in 5 years, blowing their record of best practice on the railroad.

About Liz Barron

US Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia. Permanent address in Washington DC. Deep roots in Northern Ireland and persistent Belfast accent. Blogger,cook, mother, grandma, Scrabble-player and enthusiastic world traveler.
This entry was posted in Crone in America, Culture with the Crone, Serious stuff, The Traveling Crone and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Be committed to what really matters: Safety First

  1. Chris Turner says:

    Good grief, an entertaining and informative blog about health and safety. I might even go so far as to say that parts of it were almost moving, if I could be sure no-one thought this was some kind of pun to do with a railroad company.

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