Metro to survey workers about safety issues

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 10, 2010; B04

Metro on Wednesday launched its first safety survey of its 10,000 employees to encourage them to speak up about hazards in an effort to prevent accidents.

The 10-page survey has about 30 questions on topics such as whether employees have witnessed a safety violation and, if so, whether they reported it and why.

In a videotaped appeal, Metro Interim General Manager Richard Sarles asks all employees to be forthcoming about safety problems. "We have to have complete honesty about the challenges you face," Sarles says in the video.

The survey comes ahead of the first anniversary of the June 22 Red Line crash that killed nine people and injured 80. Since then, Metro has been dogged by safety problems, including the deaths of four workers in rail accidents and the electrocution of a subcontractor at a bus garage.

Sarles and other senior Metro officials are seeking to overhaul the agency, which has been criticized by federal and state officials, transit experts and union leaders for communications breakdowns and a demoralized workforce that views the leadership as unresponsive.

The survey, which is to be completed by July 9, marks an effort to solicit unvarnished views from front-line Metro workers and other employees.

"It is completely confidential," Metro Chief Safety Officer James Dougherty says in the video. "Please be candid. We want to know where we really stand in terms of safety. Honesty is key to that."

Employees will fill out surveys on paper in small groups and place them in sealed envelopes to maintain anonymity, said Ann Murtha, Metro's manager of corporate safety, who is in charge of the survey.

Metro is paying the firm Corporate Executive Board $50,000 to design, analyze and compile results from the survey, which will try to identify obstacles to solving safety problems.

"Did you fear retaliation? Was it a fellow union person and you didn't want to look like you were ratting them? Did you think they wouldn't do anything? We need to get their voice heard," Murtha said.

The survey also asks employees whether they know who their safety officer is or if they know they have a local safety committee representing them. It asks when they last received any communication about safety and whether they are trained to handle workforce performance issues.

"We also look at fairness: Do they feel that everyone is being treated the same way in regards to safety issues in particular?" Murtha said.

One page of the survey is blank so that employees can describe problems in detail.

Metro's roughly 40 safety committees, set up in 2007, will gather the surveys. The agency plans to release the results to employees this fall, Murtha said.

"Part of getting a safety culture is, you can't be secretive about it; you have to share," Murtha said.

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