Impacts of Participatory Safety Rules Revision in U.S. Railroad Industry
REPORT NUMBER: TRR1899-20
SUBJECT: Human Factors
KEYWORDS: Impacts of Participatory Safety Rules Revision in U.S. Railroad Industry
Increasingly, the proliferation of safety rules is viewed not just as a nuisance but also as a threat to safety itself. Indeed, voluminous and overlapping rules might contribute to poor compliance because of confusion and disagreement about which rules are to be followed. When combined with the existing regime of fault-based injury liability laws governing the industry, rules often become the focus of worker–management conflict rather than tools for communication about safety hazards and solutions. An exploratory assessment of participatory rules revision as an instrument of safety improvement in the U.S. railroad industry is presented. A key premise of the intervention is that rules proliferation is symptomatic of deeper problems with the organizational safety culture that can be
addressed through extensive stakeholder participation in the revision process. Data for the study came from three railroads and one in-land barge line. While interview data provided evidence for an impact on the safety culture, initial statistical analysis of the incident data failed to find decreases in incident rates associated with the advent of the formal rules revision process. Further exploration, however, suggested that the intervention actually began earlier with various preparatory activities. Statistical analysis of this revised hypothesis found a significant impact of the intervention on incident rates at one rail carrier, while incident rate declines at two other carriers could not be attributed to the intervention with confidence.