Hersman: Investigations Highlight Need for New Perspective on Safety Culture

WASHINGTON — National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah A. P. Hersman said accident investigations highlight the need for a new perspective on safety culture, record-keeping and aging infrastructure.

In a speech to the audience at the Transportation Research Board (TRB) conference, Hersman discussed four investigations across all modes of transportation. She highlighted several accidents that claimed the lives of dozens and encouraged attendees to embrace lessons learned to prevent future accidents.

“If you’re going to build a transportation project that’s going to stand for decades, the foundation of future operating decisions may well be based on the original documentation. Make sure your records stand the test of time,” Hersman said.

Hersman also emphasized the need for establishing a positive safety culture across all modes of transportation. She noted that 4 years before the fatal transit train collision on Washington’s Metro system, a precursor incident led to the development of a test to detect the component failure involved in the 2009 tragedy. However, Metro failed to ensure that the new procedures were adopted and understood by their maintenance crews.

“What Metro needed in 2005 was a safety culture that ensured that the lessons learned were communicated to all parts of the organization,” she said.

During her speech, Hersman recognized the demands presented by aging infrastructure. “We believe — and Americans have the right to assume — that our infrastructure is built to last. And indeed it does last. We definitely got the extended warranty on some of those landmark projects. Unfortunately at the rate we’re going we really needed the lifetime guarantee.”