Center Executive Director Jack Clark Testifies on Importance of Creating a Just Safety Culture
Posted April 2015
On March 25, Transportation Learning Center Executive Director Jack Clark testified on safety culture at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) safety hearing organized by Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689.
Clark’s testimony was based on Improving Safety Culture in Public Transportation, a report the Center helped write for the Transportation Research Board’s Transit Cooperative Research Program (Report 174) as well as FTA’s Transit Rail Advisory Committee on Safety (TRACS) report on Safety Culture to the US Secretary of Transportation. Jack outlined some of the key characteristics required for a safety culture in transit at Washington Metro. Among the indicators he cited were encouragement to report safety problems and share data about safety, an organizational commitment to continuous learning and improvement and a just culture that holds people accountable for reckless actions but avoids punishing people for unintentional errors.
While the TCRP Safety Culture report included a detailed case study on significant improvements to safety culture at Washington Metro, those improvements were overshadowed by the January 12 accident on the Yellow Line where a passenger died from smoke inhalation. Clark’s testimony noted that the Center is in the culture change business and that successful culture change needs to come from a commitment from the top leaders of the local agency and union that reaches down throughout the organization and workforce. He concluded by noting that having Local 689 President Jackie Jeter and WMATA Interim General Manager Jack Requa leading the hearing together could mark a new beginning for a positive safety culture at Metro.
The hearing also featured testimony from other labor leaders and from Metro passengers. The most powerful testimony came from a panel of Local 689 members who are frontline workers at WMATA. A train operator, a paratransit driver, a station manager, a power technician and a bus driver each explained in gripping personal terms their encounters both with hazards on the job and with failures within the Metro system to promptly address their situations and remedy unsafe conditions. Interim GM Requa acknowledged their testimony, thanked them and said that Metro needed to do better in listening and responding to its employees.