Norfolk Southern rolls out new safety tool: Tell Me
Norfolk Southern’s grassroots safety leaders have rolled out a new peer-to-peer communications tool to help prevent workplace injuries. It’s called “Tell Me.”
With Tell Me, employees are asked to do one simple thing: Let co-workers know that it’s OK to tell you if they see you doing something risky or unsafe, such as forgetting to wear personal protection equipment or taking a job shortcut to save time.
Chief Operating Officer Mike Wheeler introduced Tell Me to the chairs and co-chairs of local safety and service committees at the company’s 2017 Safety Summit, held over two days this month in Atlanta. Back on their home territories across the company’s 22-state network, they are spreading the message to co-workers.
“I think it has great possibilities,” said Warren Harris, a locomotive engineer from Birmingham, Ala., and chair of the local Alabama Great Southern Safety and Service Committee. “It’s a tool that allows employees to show their caring side, to tell a co-worker, ‘I’m concerned about your well-being.’ The more eyes that are on me, the better chances I have of making it home today.”
“I like the Tell Me campaign a lot,” said Jim Spicer, a carman and leader of the Norfolk Terminal Safety and Service Committee in Norfolk, Va., NS’ headquarters city. “It invites conversation, it engages employees, and it’s a way that we can help each other out so we can all go home at the end of the day.”
New dimension to peer-to-peer safety
Wheeler and John Irwin, assistant vice president safety and environmental, said Tell Me adds a new dimension to the company’s emphasis on peer-to-peer safety communications. It complements NS’ “i am Coming Home” safety brand, which makes safety personal. It also supports the company’s behavior-based safety program. Behavior-based safety emphasizes positive recognition of safe behavior and coaching to ensure everyone understands and complies with workplace safety rules.
“In our business, rules are the backbone of the safety process,” said Irwin. “If we remind each other about the importance of complying with these rules, we’re going to stay safe. Tell Me is all about keeping each other safe.”
In addition, the company trains employees to identify and reduce risks through a safety technique called “Pause, Process, Proceed.” Before starting a job task, employees pause to assess potential risks, process how to perform the work safety and effectively, and then proceed in the safest possible way.
In the field, an operations employee could take a job shortcut that increases the risk of an injury or get distracted, which can be dangerous in work that often occurs around large, moving equipment. A co-worker who sees this and speaks up could prevent an injury and maybe save a life, Wheeler said.
“People can get hurt, train incidents can happen – none of us wants that,” Wheeler said. “Think about how our risks can be reduced when we give each other permission to speak up and say, ‘Tell me if you see me doing something risky. If you see me doing something wrong, please tell me.’ That’s such a great message.”
On the front lines
Members of the local safety and service committees are on the front lines of safety at NS. The annual Safety Summit provides workshops and training to help the committee leaders be more effective. Representing the company’s three main operating departments – transportation, mechanical, and engineering – the committee members also spent time reviewing safety matters with their department vice presidents and senior operations supervisors.
“I think bringing safety leaders together at the summit is one of the best things the company has done for safety,” said Marijoy Halitzka, a drawbridge operator and this year’s chair of the Moorman Yard Safety and Service Committee in Bellevue, Ohio. “We share best practices, we network, and we get valuable information about what’s effective. We want to be proactive toward safety instead of reactive.”
‘Job 1’ at NS
CEO Jim Squires spoke to the group about how safety and service committee members help advance the railroad’s strategic goals of safety and service, stewardship of resources, and growth. Workplace safety and safe operations in the communities where NS operates, he said, remain “Job 1” at NS.
“Safety really is the most important thing we do,” Squires said. “If we don’t get that right, nothing else really matters all that much.”
Committee leaders, he said, drive NS safety performance and improvement.
“Your brothers and sisters on the railroad will listen to you, and they will respect you because of your knowledge and experience,” he said. “Your leadership on the local level is where the real work in safety gets done.”