Safety at Norfolk Southern is led by employee safety and service committees. Across the system, these interdepartmental committees conduct safety awareness initiatives, encourage co-worker participation, and discuss concerns related to safety and customer service.

In late 2011, Norfolk Southern introduced a behavioral science approach to safety. Since then, the workforce has been trained in behavior-based leadership and safety processes, which emphasize positive reinforcement and coaching to promote safe work behaviors and improve working relationships between supervisors and employees.

Safety efforts continued to evolve in 2014 and into 2015, with plans for expanded training and development of strategies to build on progress achieved through behavior-based safety.

Incentive Plan for Safety and Service

Norfolk Southern in 2014 adopted a new Safety and Service Incentive Plan for unionized employees to more closely align work activities and goals with SPIRIT culture change and the principles of behavior-based safety and leadership. Under the plan, annual awards of up to $1,000 are available for field employees and up to $500 for office workers who achieve superior performance in safety and service metrics. The safety component focuses on prevention of serious injuries.

“By focusing on the principles of behavior-based safety, continuous open communication, and peer support, we will move to new milestones in safety and service performance,” said Mark Manion, chief operating officer.

Employee Surveys

During 2014, the company invited employees to participate in two anonymous electronic surveys to assess workforce satisfaction. The questionnaires surveyed employees about the company’s efforts to drive positive culture change through behavior-based leadership and safety. Results were compiled independently by behavior-based safety consultant Aubrey Daniels International and are used by senior management to identify what is working and areas for improvement.

“By focusing on the principles of behavior-based safety, continuous open communication, and peer support, we will move to new milestones in safety and service performance.”

Mark Manion
executive vice president and
chief operating officer

Peer-to-Peer Pilots Drive Culture Change

In 2014, operations employees participated in two voluntary peer-to-peer initiatives to reduce at-risk work behaviors. One focused on eliminating distractions caused by use of electronic devices and the other on incidents known as “close calls.”

In Harrisburg, Effort to “RiDD” Railroad of Electronic Distraction

Locomotive engineers on the Harrisburg Division in Pennsylvania formed a committee known as RiDD — Railroaders Identifying Digital Distraction. Their aim: to help prevent accidents and injuries caused by employees distracted from work by smartphones or other electronic devices.

The pilot, supported by the local Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union, was funded by a Federal Railroad Administration grant through the Railroad Research Foundation. The effort involved education, positive reinforcement of safe work behaviors, and anonymous reporting of at-risk behavior — all to raise awareness and ensure compliance with FRA safety rules that restrict the use of electronic devices by on-duty train crews.

The RiDD committee developed a safety checklist for train crews, including making sure that smartphones and other electronic devices were turned off and properly stored on moving trains. During the pilot, engineers voluntarily and anonymously reported more than 3,100 observations of crew members following the rules and 1,100 reports of at-risk behavior.

“The participation level was very strong, and the fact that employees were willing to report at-risk behaviors to their peers speaks strongly to labor’s commitment to address the issue,” said Chip Feininger, system safety coordinator. “We want to influence behavior and not punish people, and the anonymous data gives us a way to have conversations that focus on safety and how we eliminate risky behaviors.”

The RiDD team will represent Norfolk Southern at the 2015 Safety Leadership Forum, an industry conference hosted by the Association of American Railroads that focuses on best railroad safety practices.

Chicago “Close Call” Project Fosters Grassroots Change to Prevent injuries

At Chicago Terminal, employees are encouraged to report “close call experiences” — things that could have caused an accident or injury but did not. One locomotive engineer, for example, reported a near stop signal violation after becoming temporarily distracted while listening to a radio dispatcher.

While not easy to muster the courage to report such incidents, the Chicago Terminal’s Safety and Service Committee decided that reporting close calls could save lives. Committee members developed a way for employees to anonymously share information about close calls without fear of disciplinary action. The goal is to prevent co-workers from committing similar actions that could lead to injuries and accidents.

Most of the committee members leading the effort also are leaders in local employee unions. After company training, the committee devised a plan and marketing strategy for a pilot, which the group dubbed the “Chicago Close Call Experience.” The effort has continued. Committee members review reports regularly to uncover common threads or trends and then work with management to develop preventive measures.

Through its work, the committee has developed a model that local safety and service committees systemwide can adopt to enhance network safety.

“Employees are the experts on how their jobs can be improved for ergonomics and safety. Not only do we get many good suggestions from employees, but they invent and build devices and tools that make jobs easier and enhance safety.”

Donald Robinson
manager safety and workplace design

Using Ergonomics to Enhance Jobs

Employees at Norfolk Southern are encouraged to use teamwork and problem-solving skills to enhance the safety and efficiency of their work. That’s key to the company’s ergonomics program, a part of workplace safety that seeks to maximize productivity by designing and modifying jobs to make them easier to perform.

Ergonomics is considered an essential part of sustainability at Norfolk Southern. Many employees spend their careers on the railroad, so jobs designed to meet their physical capabilities both sustain and enhance their employment.

During the year, the Mechanical Department sends teams to car and locomotive shops around the system to identify improvements employees and suppliers have made to work tools and devices to increase efficiency and enhance safety. Innovations are publicized so that shops can adopt and standardize ergonomic practices. Similarly, engineering employees serve on a committee that evaluates work vehicles to ensure they are equipped with the most ergonomic operating systems.

Ergo Cup

The railroad’s annual “Ergo Cup” competition showcases ergonomic improvements developed by mechanical and engineering employees. In 2014, the competition included 35 entries from mechanical and 11 from engineering. Professional ergonomists judged the competition, and two winning teams from the Mechanical Department represented Norfolk Southern at the National Applied Ergonomic Conference’s Ergo Cup competition in Nashville, Tenn.

Norfolk Southern recognizes that employees are the best sources of ideas that enhance job safety and efficiencies. For his innovative thinking, Jim Kovac, locomotive machinist, earned a 2014 company SPIRIT Award, which recognizes employees who exemplify our core values of Safety, Performance, Integrity, Respect, Innovation, and Teamwork.


While not one to brag, Jim Kovac, machinist at Juniata Locomotive Shop, in Altoona, Pa., gets credit for enhancing the safety and productivity of employees who maintain the company’s fleet of GE Dash 9 locomotives.

Maintaining the massive 410,000-pound road locomotives can be challenging when it comes to replacing certain parts, including yaw dampers. Part of the wheel assembly, yaw dampers are the locomotive equivalent to automobile shock absorbers. When fully expanded, they range in size from 2 to 3.5 feet long and 4 to 9 inches in diameter. To fit them on a Dash 9, however, machinists needed to compress them several inches.

“The company that supplied the yaw dampers shipped them to the shop in their expanded form, and employees were having trouble compressing them to install them under the locomotive truck,” Kovac said, referring to an assembly that includes the wheels, axles, and side frames. “Some of these yaw dampers weigh up to 85 pounds, and when fully expanded, they’re not easy to handle, even with a hoist.”

Kovac thought about a solution and realized the job would be easier if the supplier compressed the yaw dampers before shipping them. Kovac discussed his idea with a representative of KONI, the yaw damper supplier. The outcome has benefitted locomotive machinists across the industry. As a result of Kovac’s suggestion, KONI provides rail customers with yaw dampers wrapped in bands that compress them.

Kovac won a company Ergo Cup award for his efforts. Now, Juniata machinists can quickly maneuver the yaw dampers into place, release the bands, and allow the shocks to expand to fit. The change has enhanced safety and cut installation time by 5 to 10 minutes — a significant benefit to productivity.

“We replace yaw dampers daily, so getting them precompressed has saved our employees a lot of time and energy,” Kovac said. “I think it was a small idea, but anything I can do to enhance safety and efficiency in the shop, I’m all for.”