Remarks by Jim Hall
Acting Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
Chattanooga Manufacturers Association
Chattanooga, TN.
October 24, 2000
 


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Thank you for inviting me to be here today. It's always a pleasure to be back among friends and fellow Tennesseans to discuss an issue of mutual concern - the safety of the nation's transportation system.

As many of you may know, the National Transportation Safety Board has been the eyes and ears of the American people at accident sites for over three decades.

Congress believed, when it established the Board, that an independent investigative agency was needed to investigate accidents in all modes of transportation - aviation, railroad, highway, marine, pipeline, and hazardous materials - and to make recommendations that would improve the safety of the transportation system and prevent similar accidents from recurring.

Most associate the Board -- and me -- with aviation safety -- primarily because major aviation accidents receive a lot of attention from the public and the media. As a result of that attention, and the public's demand for the government and the industry to take the aggressive action necessary to ensure their safety, aviation accidents are rare events and we have the safest air transport system in the world.

The same is not true on our highways -- the one transport system that each of us uses every day. Highway crashes currently account for more than 40,000 deaths annually in the United States Here in Tennessee, more than 1,200 people die on our roadways every year. New York, with nearly three times the population, has nearly the same number of fatalities. In fact, Tennessee's fatality rate is 22.8 per 100,000, while New York's is 9.1. During the period of 1997 to 1999, 420 of our family members, friends and neighbors in Hamilton and the 11 surrounding counties were killed in motor vehicle crashes.

Improving the safety of our roadways has been one of my primary goals during my tenure as Chairman. And, I want to return to that subject later in my remarks.

But, first, I want to focus on what you can do to help improve the safety of the nation's transportation system - our highways, our railways, our airways, our waterways, and our pipelines - a system that you rely on every day to safely transport your goods, your supplies, your employees, and your children.

  As I mentioned earlier, the Safety Board makes recommendations, following our accident investigations, to government regulatory agencies, companies, carriers, equipment manufacturers, unions, and professional associations in all modes of transportation in an effort to prevent similar accidents from recurring. Over the years, we have issued some 11,000 such recommendations - and more than 80 percent of them have been implemented. But, if we truly want to prevent accidents, we need to ensure that every organization has institutionalized a corporate culture that makes safety a priority.

It takes the cooperation and dedication of everyone, at every level of an organization, to create an environment that nurtures safe practices and makes safety a priority in a corporation's strategic planning and day-to-day operations. Accidents aren't caused by a single factor - and they don't occur in a vacuum. Safety and accident prevention must be everyone's concern and responsibility - an organization's leadership must be committed to safety and to making sure that everyone knows, by word and deed, that it is a priority.

One of the first Safety Board recommendations on corporate culture was issued in 1968, in our second year of existence, to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). After reviewing a number of railroad accidents, we told the FRA that we believed that the primary responsibility for improving railroad safety rests with the railroads' management and their labor organizations.

Our belief that safety and accident prevention are a shared responsibility of management, the individual workforce and government - at all levels - hasn't changed in the last 32 years.

Several of your members know exactly what I'm talking about and provide excellent examples of what a company can do to create an effective safety culture within their organizations.

Mr. C. Ray Childers, President and CEO this association, was once with the DuPont Corporation, which has a zero tolerance policy for accidents and employee injuries. As impressive as its 99.1 percent safety record was, the company wasn't satisfied to stop there. In fact, they noted at our 1997 Corporate Culture symposium that if we all accepted 99.1 percent in other aspects of our lives, we would then accept:

I doubt that any of us would tolerate any of those situations.

BASF, represented here today by the Chairman of your organization, Mr. J.D. Purvis, has also learned the value of creating an effective safety culture. In 1987, in New Orleans, a rail tank car, filled with butadiene (bute-a-die-een) (a flammable gas), began leaking when a damaged gasket failed to properly seal an opening at the bottom of the tank. The gas migrated into a neighborhood where it ignited and burned for three days. More than 200 city blocks were evacuated and several major interstate highways were closed - just as the Pope was en route to visit the city.

The rail car was being transported to Chattanooga to a manufacturing plant owned and operated by Polysar Limited - now owned by BASF.

When NTSB began our accident investigation, we asked Polysar to participate as a party to help us determine how the tank car was loaded, understand the characteristics of butadiene (bute-a-die-een), and to examine emergency response issues.

At least one of the employees who worked with us on that accident is still with BASF, and is putting what he learned to good use. David Darnell is an emergency response team leader for BASF and is active in the Hamilton County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). In fact, this year, David was Chairperson of the Emergency Planning Conference, a conference that targets statewide emergency responders and provides them with important training opportunities. As a result of the efforts of David and others, Hamilton County and Chattanooga have one of the most active and progressive LEPCs in the Southeast.

Let me give you an example of why it's important for an organization to have a proactive safety culture. Colonial Pipeline Company, headquartered near Atlanta, operates a major pipeline network that transports much of the gasoline and other fuels from Houston to New York.

In the 1990s, the Safety Board looked into seven Colonial pipeline accidents. I want to tell you about just four of them.

Since these accidents, Colonial has a new President and Chief Executive Officer and a new Chief Operating Officer who have adopted a new operational philosophy - one that makes safety one of the company's core values and that recognizes that its primary responsibility is to protect the public, the environment, and its workforce. In addition, personal accountability and responsibility are now expected of every employee.

Over the last few years, I've visited Colonial's headquarters several times and I have seen the new commitment to safety manifested throughout the company. In fact, during one of my visits, they presented me with a plaque that I keep on the wall in my office - it says -- "Never Again."

A CEO's commitment or lack of commitment to safety set the example for the rest of the company. But, more importantly, that commitment has to be shared by every level of management. Only then will the employee packaging the material, turning the valve, loading the box on an airplane, or filling a tank car understand that safety is more than a concept - that it is an integral part of every action they take.

Over the years, the Safety Board has become, in effect, the national archive -- funded by the taxpayer -- of what not to do. Let me give you some examples of accidents that we've investigated here in Tennessee and the surrounding area and lessons we've learned from them.

On June 6, 1994, a railroad tank car, containing over 12,000 gallons of arsenic acid, leaked almost 3,100 gallons of it in Chattanooga's de Butts yard. The tank car was positioned over a storm drain that emptied into Citico Creek, allowing the acid to flow into the creek and eventually into the Tennessee River -- within 175 feet of the city's municipal water supply intakes. The leak was caused by the misalignment of a loading pipe inside the tank car. The pipe damaged the protective coating at a sump at the bottom of the tank car. And, that damage exposed the steel tank to the corrosive acid.

Five days before the accident, a technician for the shipper had entered the tank car to rinse the interior with water and to examine the condition of the protective coating. Although the damage to the tank should have been detected and reported at that time - it was not. Consequently, the tank car was loaded and moved - failing as it passed through Chattanooga.

As a result, the Safety Board recommended that the tank car builder inspect and modify other tank cars with the same configuration. We also recommended that the shipper implement procedures to select and monitor the interior coatings and linings used in its tank cars.

We were also concerned that other tank car builders and chemical shippers may have the same problems found in this accident. So, we also made recommendations to the FRA and the railroad associations to evaluate the failure rate of similar sumps and loading pipes, and to require appropriate repairs and modifications. And, we recommended that the FRA and the Research and Special Programs Administration, another agency within the Department of Transportation, require shippers to improve their inspection procedures.

Equally important, the community and the railroad learned invaluable lessons from this accident. The city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County Emergency Services implemented procedures to conduct regular emergency drills and exercises and to involve local transporters and carriers in their emergency planning committees. Norfolk Southern has improved not only its local emergency plan for the deButts yard, but its system-wide emergency plan as well.

On February 7, 1996, in Sweetwater, a Norfolk Southern freight train began to move forward when an uncommanded emergency brake application stopped it. As the train conductor looked for the problem, he found that a tank car had split open and collapsed - spilling about 8,000 gallons of carbon disulfide, a flammable, toxic material.

Five hundred people were evacuated from the area, including residents of a nearby nursing home. Five people sought medical treatment and one of them required hospitalization.

The Safety Board found that the tank failed because a modification to the tank car had been done incorrectly - allowing a crack to propagate near the bottom of the tank. Following our investigation, manufacturers were required to locate and inspect other tank cars that may have also been improperly repaired.

Currently, the Board is investigating a school bus accident in our area. In the last year and a half, the Board has investigated seven bus accidents involving motorcoaches and school buses. Last March, we investigated an accident involving a school bus/train collision near the Tennessee/Georgia border.

The bus, carrying seven elementary school children ages five through nine, was struck by a CSX freight train at a passive grade crossing on Liberty Church Road in Conasauga in Polk County. The bus was on a morning pick-up route for the Murray County School District, headquartered in Chatsworth, Georgia.

After picking up the last student on Liberty Church Road, the driver proceeded on a downgrade towards a railroad crossing protected by railroad crossbucks. As the driver reached the grade crossing, she failed to stop. As she entered the crossing, the bus was struck by a southbound CSX freight train traveling at about 50 miles per hour. The impact separated the school bus body from its frame and the locomotive came to rest about 1,950 feet south of the crossing.

The driver and three of the children were ejected. One of those children and two who had remained in the bus died. Our investigation is continuing on that accident.

Tomorrow, I'll be meeting with Governor Sunquist to discuss how the state can improve our children's safety not only when they travel back and forth to school, but any time they're travelling on our roadways.

Which brings me back to the issue I mentioned earlier in my remarks - highway safety. The statistics tell the story:

In addition to this enormous human and emotional toll, these crashes cost the American economy more than $150 billion each year, much of that borne by the states. In fact, medical care costs from highway accidents cost Tennesseans about $1,000 every second.

We all know that wearing seat belts is the easiest and most effective way to reduce the highway death toll. Yet, many don't wear them. I hope, as part of your safety culture, you'll encourage all of your employees, both on and off the job, to wear their seat belts whether they are operating a company or personal vehicle.

But, you can do more. I want you to tell them that they need to do more to protect their children as well. Highway crashes are the leading cause of children's deaths in the United States.

That's why I have made child passenger safety my number one priority at the Safety Board and it has been on our Most Wanted List of safety improvements for the past six years.

In addition to our initiatives to improve heavy vehicle safety on our highways, the Board has a number of projects underway to help protect our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

In 1999, I asked automobile manufacturers to put children first when they're designing their vehicles and the Safety Board recommended that fitting stations be established to reduce the widespread misuse of child safety seats. We called upon the automobile industry, child restraint manufacturers, the states, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to support the creation of fitting stations where parents and caregivers can go for car seat check-ups to ensure that their children are receiving the necessary protection.

A number of states and automobile manufacturers including DaimlerChrysler and General Motors have committed time, money and personnel to make fitting stations available to the public. We hope that others will soon follow suit.

Last fall, I also asked the National Governors' Association to take two specific actions in regard to the safety of children. I asked them:

Before I close, permit me some observations on the safety culture in our own community - because our citizens' safety depends on having an effective, robust safety culture. We all have an obligation to one another and our fellow Tennesseans to ensure that everything that can be done is being done to protect them.

Chattanooga is a beautiful area, one that has historically served as an important transportation hub:

While I congratulate all of the manufacturers here today for your focus on the personal and environmental safety of our community, I believe you can do more:

I know you are called upon to support many community issues. But, your leadership in this area could possibly save the life of someone you know. For, the most dangerous place your families and your employees go each day is on our area's highways. Therefore, I ask

Enhancing your company's and our community's safety culture is good business and it's the right thing to do. Thank you for having me today.

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