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Following the June 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine people, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a recommendation that the authority put in place a confidential “close call” reporting system for employees, so they wouldn’t fear being disciplined for blowing the whistle about safety concerns like vehicle and equipment damage. Metro will finally extend that system, launched in 2013, to bus operators early next year, according to a report for the agency’s board to review this week.

Now, bus operators who “see or experience unsafe conditions” will be able to submit reports to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which will redact all identifying information from them, interview submitters, and ultimately discuss findings with a Metro “peer review team” whose recommended safety actions the authority shall consider.

“Close call reporting provides another avenue of reporting incidents confidentially which will enable employees to keep a constant focus and attention to safety,” the board document explains. “These incidents will not be subject to administrative discipline, but the knowledge of their existence is critical in maintaining and changing the safety culture. The program does not eliminate employee accountability for specific serious rules violations.”

That culture has been a problem. Critics of the transit system have claimed that Metro has not fostered a culture of safety. In April, a union official told WAMU that the rail program was beginning to counter that. “I believe there still is some cynicism that exists where the employees feel when they report something management doesn’t always act on it, or there are deaf ears. But I believe we are starting to break some of that down,” said James Madaras, the safety officer at ATU Local 689.

As Metro installs the program for bus employees, the agency says in another report for the board’s safety committee that it will work to implement 91 “corrective actions” issued earlier this year by the Federal Transit Administration.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery; screenshot via Metro report

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