Norfolk Southern’s recommitment to an injury-free workplace – punctuated by the new “i am Coming Home” safety message – is rolling out in a big way in yards, shops, and facilities systemwide.
In March, Mark Manion, executive vice president and chief operating officer, unveiled the new safety branding to employees attending the annual safety and service expo and awards celebration in Atlanta. Now, the company is officially launching efforts on the local level to engage employees about the importance of working safely.
“We’re really personalizing safety for our employees, to make it inward facing rather than a corporation just talking at them about safety,” said David Julian, vice president safety and environmental. “When we talk about coming home, everybody can grasp from a personal standpoint why safety is important.”
The company is sponsoring cookouts at major rail terminals in August to promote the new safety message, which will kick off a broader initiative to refocus on safety. Over the coming months, NS will hold employee workshops on risk behavior; provide training to members of local safety and service committees; expand efforts to track safety performance; and implement measures aimed at preventing injuries.
“We want to drill down to the operating division and the local level,” Julian said, “and reinforce the things that are being done well and to identify the areas where we need to do more work.”
Playing a leading role
“The grassroots safety and service committees will be leaders in helping build on progress NS has made in culture change and behavior-based safety and leadership in our ongoing work with business partner Aubrey Daniels International,” Julian said.
Earlier this year, the Safety and Environmental Department formed a task force comprised of safety and service members from every division to discuss best practices and develop guidelines for the company’s more than 140 local committees. The task force members, including agreement and nonagreement employees, represented committees with records of safety and service successes. The panel met three times over seven days and generated a document at the end of June that will be a valuable resource for employees selected to lead or serve on a safety and service committee, participants said.
“We were able to bring in people from all over the system to brainstorm and get the best ideas on how to construct these committees to be the most beneficial to every employee, whether you’re a transportation, engineering, or mechanical employee,” said task force member Jeremy Pate, a locomotive engineer and local chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen in Birmingham, Ala.
“We now have a format in place we never had before,” said task force member Rick Watts, a carman and training gang leader in Decatur, Ill. “These documents will be a vital tool in helping our committees become a lot more effective through leadership training.”
Pate, a member of the North Alabama Great Southern committee, said one of its best practices is conducting bimonthly safety checkups at local industries served by NS train crews.
“We communicate with our customers on how we can serve them better and how they can help us in certain areas,” Pate said. Recently, committee members doing a checkup discovered a malfunctioning derail appliance in an industry yard. “It could have been a trap for one of our people,” Pate said.
Watts, a member of the Decatur Terminal committee, cited as a best practice its peer-to-peer “safety roadblock” to promote summer safety.
Over 24 hours, committee members greet employees arriving for work with a water bottle packed with such things as sunscreen, bee-sting kits, insect wipes, and packets of drink powder. This summer, the committee added a flier promoting the “i am Coming Home” safety message.
“We’re keeping that theme rolling in Decatur,” Watts said. “Hopefully, that message will go into their homes and be shared with their families.”
Training is key
In the fall, NS will begin offering workshops for employees who serve on safety and service committees, including a session for chairs and vice chairs and another for members. The full-day workshop for committee leaders, called “Leading For Results,” will focus on such things as how to conduct an effective meeting, how to resolve disagreements, and leadership skills. Half-day workshops for members, “Meeting
For Results,” will concentrate on teamwork, problem solving, and collaboration.
The sessions will be taught by members of the task force and by employees in operations training, said Bill Faulhaber, director operations training, who helped facilitate the safety and service task force. The company plans to conduct these workshops once or twice a year as new members join the committees.
“This way it becomes sustainable,” Faulhaber said. “These local committees are a major investment the company makes in safety and service, and we recognize that they are a tremendous resource in helping drive improvements. We need to do everything we can to capitalize on their input and provide them with all the tools they need to be successful.”
Beginning in September, operations craft employees will attend half-day “Risk Factor” workshops that focus on risk-taking and how employees can safely manage risks encountered daily. The workshops, developed by NS partner DuPont Sustainable Solutions in collaboration with ADI-supported training, will be taught by operations supervisors trained and certified by DuPont.
“It gives people new skill sets and new ways to think about how they do things from a safety standpoint,” Julian said.
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