Not a Member?  Become One Today!

NTSB Adds Trains, Choppers and Boats to ‘Most Wanted’ Safety Priorities

By Roy Maurer  5/9/2014
Copyright Image Permissions

Ensuring the safe operation of rail mass transit, helicopters and passenger vessels, are all priorities for 2014, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) annual “Most Wanted” list. The list, which aims to highlight transportation dangers that are causing accidents, also includes eliminating distracted and substance-impaired driving.

“Transportation is safer than ever. Yet, every year, we see over 35,000 fatalities,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman in a press conference announcing the priorities list. “We can—and must—do better,” she said. The list is not binding on any federal agency; however, regulators often use it to determine which transportation safety issues deserve the most attention.

The 2014 list includes these first-time areas:

Rail mass transit safety. Hersman said that the NTSB has found that many mass transit accidents stem from human factors such as train operators’ poor judgment, failure to inspect or repair track, or senior management prioritizing operational timeliness over safety.

Operators of rail mass transit—comprised of light rail, commuter rail and subways—can all benefit from strengthening their organizational safety cultures, she said.

“It is important to ensure efficient and effective communications and coordination among all stakeholders—top and middle management, line supervisors, workers, unions and support contractors—who are responsible for the design, maintenance, operation and safety of the system.”

Mass transit agencies also need to continually improve their understanding of the role of human error in accidents and near-accident scenarios, the agency said. The NTSB suggested that management practices include train crew resource management, fatigue management systems, and confidential close-call reporting systems.

“Another critical element to promoting operational safety in mass transit is oversight,” Hersman said. The most recent transportation reauthorization bill gives the Federal Transit Administration critical authority to set and enforce new safety standards and conduct investigations.

Helicopter operations. Since 2004, there have been around 1,600 accidents involving helicopters used as air ambulances, for search and rescue missions, and for commercial operations such as tours. More than 500 people died and 274 were seriously injured in those accidents. The NTSB recommends that helicopter operators develop and implement safety management systems that include risk management practices, particularly with regard to inspection and maintenance. According to the agency, best practices for maintenance personnel should also include duty-time regulations that take into consideration factors such as start time, workload, shift changes, circadian rhythms, adequate rest time, and other factors shown by recent research, scientific evidence, and current industry experience to affect maintenance crew alertness.

Passenger vessel safety. For over three decades, NTSB accident investigations revealed in numerous cases that the cause of an accident was not the failure of the vessel but the lack of good safety practices, Hersman said.

The agency highlighted the actions taken by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) after a Staten Island ferry struck a maintenance pier in 2003 while attempting to dock, causing 10 deaths and numerous serious injuries. The New York DOT responded by reorganizing the agency and implementing a strong safety culture.

Key agency priorities held over from 2013 include:

  • Banning the use of portable electronic devices while operating a car, train, plane or marine vessel. In addition to supporting a ban on the use of these devices, the agency will continue to support employer policies that reinforce laws and regulations by explaining the dangers of distraction in transportation.
  • Supporting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s efforts to provide strong laws, improve enforcement strategies, innovate adjudication programs and use technology to prevent substance-impaired driving.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

Quick Links:

SHRM Online Safety & Security page

Subscribe to SHRM’s Safety & Security HR e-newsletter
Copyright Image Permissions


Swipe for more!