Safety: Is the rule book enough?

By April 6, 2020Features

By David Morgan, DDM Consulting Services

Let me take a moment to introduce myself. My name is David Morgan, a new member of the HeritageRail Alliance and I am a Certified Safety and Security Director (CSSD) and a Certified Safety Executive (CSE) certified through the World Safety Organization, specializing in transportation safety and in particular, railroad safety. I have spent my career, over 30 years, in the operations and maintenance departments of commuter rail and light rail systems, before moving into the rail safety field. During my career, safety has always been at the forefront of all my job functions, whether it was as a block operator working in a tower or as an Assistant General Manager in charge of Operations and Maintenance. When I was asked to take over a safety department and perform rail safety regulatory oversight for the State of New Jersey, I felt very comfortable saying yes to that opportunity. It was during this period, that I had the pleasure to oversee the Pine Creek Railroad Division of the New Jersey Museum of Transportation. This is where I got a much better understanding and respect for what goes into rail preservation.

I’m writing this in the middle/beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic, well I hope we’re at least at the middle of it or more hopefully closer to the end…. and here in New Jersey we are under an emergency Stay at Home Order. Well, these days I fall under the definition of non-essential, and as such I’m staying at home, and to tell the truth I’m not upset about that. My current concerns are for the health and safety of my family.

So, since so many of us are under similar restrictions, I thought it was a great time to introduce myself and discuss Safety with you. Granted, I know it’s not the most glamorous of topics, but it is an extremely important one. As an industry, railroads have always used the phrase – “SAFETY FIRST” or “SAFETY IS OF THE UTMOST IMPORTANCE”.  Are safety slogans enough, are rulebooks enough…. because Safety IS paramount to each and every operation.

The business of tourist, scenic, historic and excursion railroads and trolley museums is about saving and preserving history. This is typically a labor of love, with so much of the work and leadership of these railroads being provided through volunteers. Making it tougher is that most of your operations are funded through fund raising, entrance fees and the occasional grant. Because of this how does your organization incorporate safety into its day to day operations? Just having a safety rulebook or safety program may not be enough, particularly if you don’t spend time training staff and volunteers about the program and the proper way to complete jobs and tasks and the proper use of tools.

Running historic railroads is a business, which means utilizing some type of business management tools. The question I have is while you are utilizing business management tools to help you run and manage your operations, what type of safety management tools are you using, and can you measure your organizations level of safety? Is enough training being provided to both your paid staff, but also to the volunteers that so many organizations rely on? Do you have a method to measure your level of safety? How many accidents, incidents or injuries, either to staff/volunteers, patrons or to the general public, can your operation sustain?

I cannot answer these types of questions for you as they are different for each operation. However, at the core of every operation there needs to be a strong safety program, which also needs to be a primary core value for your organization and business. As I said earlier, I spent years doing rail regulatory oversight, and I’m a firm believer that regulations not only provide a foundation in defining minimal safety levels, but also help to ensure consistency from operation to operation across the country. There are many regulations that we are required to follow, whether they are promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration or the State that your operation is located in. Those regulations, and yes there are a lot of them, are all safety related. It is also important to remember that it is not necessarily true that historic railroad operations are regulated by the FRA. There are many that fall under the jurisdiction of their respective State – through that State’s Office of State Safety Oversight, which incorporates by both reference and State legislative authority the rail safety requirements and regulations of the Federal Transit Administration. While not every one of these regulations apply to or are appropriate for historic railroad operations, they do however provide items that are worth considering.

So, what am I talking about – when you look at regulations like the new FRA regulation 49 CFR Part 270, System Safety Program – effective May 4, 2020 or 49 CFR Part 239, Passenger Train Emergency Preparedness, while they don’t apply to historical/tourist rail operations there are many sections of each of those regulations that should be considered. Just because a regulation doesn’t apply doesn’t mean that there aren’t beneficial sections of the regulation that could be incorporated voluntarily into the way your business is done. In this article I’m going to stick with what I see as the benefits of 49 CFR Part 270, System Safety Program, and save a discussion of the Passenger Train Emergency Preparedness regulation for another article.

As an industry, historic railroad operations are safe, but they could be safer. That being said, every business and operation CAN be safer. While every business’ goal is zero safety incidents, this is an extremely difficult goal to achieve.

Just about every railroad has a safety rule book or some form of one. But is just a safety rule book enough to keep you safe? I’d like you to think about incorporating some of the following parts of this and other regulations into your operations voluntarily, and begin building a stronger, and measurable safety program.

When you examine the FRA’s System Safety Program regulation, its purpose is to improve railroad safety through structured, proactive processes and procedures developed and implemented by railroads. In my opinion this is not a bad thing. One of the primary purposes of developing a System Safety Plan as defined under 49 CFR Part 270, is for railroads to establish a system safety program that systematically evaluates a railroads safety hazards and the resulting risk of their system, and manages those risks to reduce the number and rates of railroad accidents, incidents, injuries and fatalities. By doing this you begin to develop a proactive approach to safety. As an organization, by reviewing your safety incidents by using safety management tools you can begin to predict when incidents might occur, and because of this begin to mitigate those hazards and risks before any incidents may occur.

System Safety Plans are not one size fits all, but rather they are scalable to meet the needs of each railroad. The true purpose of a system safety plan is to describe your operations and discuss how various activities / tasks are performed. Another way of saying that is to describe how you actually do your business – Safety, Training, Operations, Maintenance, etc. In this way it provides for a method to evaluate and assess how well your organization is doing its business. It will help you to determine if you are following your own rules and procedures.

So, let’s look at what should be included in a system safety plan. The plan should include, but not be limited to the following information:

  • A Safety Policy Statement
  • The Purpose and Scope of the System Safety Plan
  • Goals and Objectives
  • A description of the Railroad and/or operation
  • A description of safety activities
  • A description of how and when the System Safety Plan will be reviewed and updated
  • A description of a hazard management process
  • An overview of the railroads Public Outreach Program
  • Accident notification, investigation and reporting
  • A description of the railroads Rules Compliance Program
  • An Overview of an Inspection/Assessment and Audit Program, to include:
    • Facilities and Equipment Safety Inspections
    • Maintenance, Inspection and repair programs
    • System Safety Plan audit program to check for plan compliance
  • A description of the railroad’s Training and Certification program
  • An Overview of the Workplace safety program

So, take a minute and think about your operations. How well are your safety initiatives defined, documented and most importantly how are they communicated throughout your organization? How well have you developed procedures for the various tasks / functions and activities that your staff and volunteers perform, and even more importantly have you provided the proper training for those activities? Again, this is not something that I can answer for you in this article. Each operation is different and would require an assessment based on individual systems documentation, rules, plans and procedures.

Regardless of industry, whether that industry is retail, construction, manufacturing or railroading, the following tasks help to build and improve the safety of operation. They can additionally help to establish a stronger safety environment and safety culture. Isn’t one of the goals of every operation to build a stronger safety environment? To do that here are the tasks that you can utilize:

  • Ensure management is committed to safety. Please, Please, remember that SAFETY starts at the TOP and flows downward.
  • Designate responsibility for Safety – If you don’t already have one – you should consider designating a Safety Officer or even better a Chief Safety Officer.
  • Conduct a Hazard Assessment – I recommend using Military Standard 882E (MIL-STD 882E) System Safety to complete this
  • Determine the safety requirements of your workplace – Conduct a hazard / job hazard analysis to make this assessment.
  • Develop a written Safety Policy – This is something that was discussed earlier as being part of the System Safety Plan.
  • Ensure that there is open and free two-way communication about safety.
  • Correct identified hazards.
  • Train employees and volunteers in safety. Document that training.
  • Keep the workplace hazard free. Utilize good housekeeping in the workplace.
  • Review your safety program on a regular basis and keep it up to date.

Safety needs to be in the forefront and not an afterthought. It needs to be more than just a safety rulebook, a toolbox meeting, job briefing or safety poster. Safety needs to be a primary business core value. There needs to be open communications between staff and management where staff feels comfortable to bring forward safety concerns, without fear of retribution from management. Staff needs to be empowered and feel safe to identify unsafe conditions, tools, activities, etc., and management needs to listen and address those concerns. But more importantly, after a concern has been brought forward it needs to be:

1) investigated; and

2) corrected as warranted, and

3) finally, a message of resolution needs to be brought back to the individual or group that brought the concern forward.

As I have said previously, just because a federal, state or local regulation doesn’t directly apply to the industry of rail preservation does not mean that we shouldn’t consider implementing all or part of those regulations voluntarily. Safety should not be an afterthought. Safety needs to be a core value of your business. Too many times when times get tough, safety and training tend to be the first items cut in budgets, but this is not a good business decision. As the commitment to safety decreases, the potential for accidents, incidents and injuries increase.

Just some things for you to consider in closing:

  • How strong is your safety program?
  • Do you have a Safety Policy Statement?
  • Can it stand up to a full safety assessment where you would have to produce, some of the following records, for example:
    1. Training records,
      1. What activities require training
      2. Documented training of
        1. Paid Staff
        2. Volunteers
      3. Rule compliance checks
      4. Documented procedures
        1. Confined space
        2. Fall protection
  • Forklift training
  1. Overhead crane training
  2. Track inspection
  3. Bridge inspection
  • Etc. (as you can see the list can go on and on)
  1. Maintenance records
  2. Tool Calibration records

All these tasks / activities need to be documented and reviewed. Documented deficiency during maintenance or operations can help to predict 1) weaknesses in our programs and 2) where potential incidents can occur. Conducting regular assessments to determine how well the program performs is essential. A proper assessment should never be an “I Gotcha” type of assessment or audit, but rather one that proactively evaluates what is being done well and where improvements need to be made.

Remember, it is much easier to correct problems in their infancy than after they have grown into a major issue. I hope this has given you some things to consider as it relates to the safety of your organization.

I’d love to hear from you and hear your thoughts. I can be reached at

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