Celebrating Employee Achievement

By Debbie Hersman

On April 27, the NTSB held our 37th annual Employee Awards Ceremony to celebrate the achievements of our employees.

Sir Isaac Newton wrote, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” That is how I feel about everyone who we recognized today. These award winners and their colleagues are the giants of the NTSB who enable my fellow Board members and me to see farther. Every time we give a briefing at an accident scene, conduct a public hearing, testify on Capitol Hill or do a host of other assignments to promote safety, we are standing on the shoulders of our dedicated and highly professional workforce.

Chairman's Award winner Loren Groff, Ph.D. with the NTSB Board
Pictured above (center) is Loren Groff, Ph.D., Senior Safety Analyst, Office of Research and Engineering, who received the 2010 Chairman’s Award. With him are (left to right) Member Mark Rosekind, Vice Chairman Chris Hart, Chairman Debbie Hersman, and Members Robert Sumwalt and Earl Weener.

Other employees who were recognized include:

Yvette Delgado, Legal Assistant and Hispanic Employment Program Manager, Equal Employment Opportunity Award

Zoe Keliher, Regional Air Safety Investigator, Regional Employee Award

William C. Love, Deputy General Counsel, Danny Raskin Memorial Volunteer Award

Kim Nguyen, Administrative Assistant, Distinguished Service Award for Administrative Support

Ruben Payan, Electrical Engineer Investigator in Charge and Railroad Accident Investigator, Dr. John K. Lauber Award

Jana Price, Senior Human Performance Investigator, Employee Peer Award

Jennifer Rodi, Regional Air Safety Investigator, Regional Employee Award

Candice Sheckleford, Management Support Specialist, Managing Director’s Award

Lorenda Ward, Investigator in Charge, Joseph Trippe Nall Memorial Award

Talking About Fatigue and How to Address It

By Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.

The NTSB has issued nearly 200 fatigue-related safety recommendations.

This morning, I held a media roundtable regarding fatigue. Not surprisingly, questions were raised regarding the recent instances of air traffic controllers found sleeping on the job. I pointed out that the NTSB’s investigations have found that fatigue is an issue across all modes of transportation. Over the past 40 years, the NTSB has issued nearly 200 fatigue-related safety recommendations: 61 address highway safety, 51 rail safety, and 46 aviation safety.

Questions were asked about strategies to address fatigue, including controlled napping. I explained that the NTSB has not made a safety recommendation regarding strategic naps for air traffic controllers, but does emphasize that the transportation industry needs a comprehensive science-based solution to fatigue. Numerous science-based strategies could be considered. Controlled napping is only one.

NTSB recommendations regarding a comprehensive approach include:

  1. education about fatigue risks, sleep need, and circadian rhythms,
  2. address health and medical issues related to sleep disorders, and
  3. 24/7 work schedules consistent with scientific research.

Fatigue and transportation safety is clearly a complicated and often contentious issue. One thing is certain: the time has come to address it.

Mark Rosekind, Ph.D., is a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board. He is a frequent contributor to the NTSB blog.

Keeping a Close Eye on Close Calls

By Debbie Hersman

Image of several planes near each other in flight
TCAS warns flight crews about a possible collision in the air.

We are hearing a lot this week about the loss of separation between an Air National Guard Boeing 737, with First Lady Michelle Obama on board, and a military cargo plane near Andrews AFB. Fortunately, the error was caught, and corrections were made to prevent the 737 from encountering wake vortices from the cargo plane. Last January, a significant loss of separation occurred between a Boeing 777 bound for Brazil and two military C-17s just outside New York. At their closest, the aircraft were only separated by one mile.

“Loss of separation” occurs when the space — vertically or horizontally — between two airborne aircraft falls below the minimum allowable. Modern commercial and military aircraft are equipped with collision avoidance alerts from their Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System, or “TCAS.” These alarms sound inside the cockpit to warn flight crews about a possible collision in the air. The vast majority of these conflicts are resolved quickly, and passengers are never even aware of the event. Once in a while, the conflict is more serious and an aircraft must take sudden evasive action.

Continue reading Keeping a Close Eye on Close Calls

Call Before You Dig

By Debbie Hersman

Always call 811 before you dig.

Did you know to call 811 before you begin any excavation project — for example, before planting a tree, installing a mailbox, or building a deck? The reason: To protect you from hitting underground utility lines.

This is important. Damage to underground lines is a leading cause of pipeline accidents. While pipelines are a very safe mode of transportation, there has been a spate of recent accidents across the country in the last year. The NTSB currently has five active pipeline accident investigations.

We’ve seen from recent tragic accidents in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and San Bruno, California, that pipeline accidents can be deadly. The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is addressing the state of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure, is holding a Pipeline Safety Forum today. I moderated this morning’s panel, which addressed, “What Are the Highest Pipeline Risks?”

As Richard Worsinger, president of the American Public Gas Association said, “Excavation damage is a main concern.” That sentiment was echoed by other panelists who agree public education is essential.

To support public education, April has been designated National Safe Digging Month. To learn more about calling 811, check out www.call811.com.

Lifeboats and Life Jackets

By Debbie Hersman

Lifeboat from the Titanic, as seen from the RMS Carpathia

Ninety-nine years ago today, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic. While 700 people survived, some 1,500 passengers and crew members were left behind to perish at sea. In that iconic accident, the heart of the tragedy was that there were not enough lifeboats for the passengers.

From my office in Southwest Washington, DC, if I look due south I can see Washington Channel Park where the Women’s Titanic Memorial is located. This is a memorial dedicated “to the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic … they gave their lives that women and children might be saved.”

Over the past century, numerous improvements, including international regulations (Safety of Life at Sea Convention) for stability, watertight integrity, and lifesaving equipment for all persons on board have made merchant vessels safer.

Here in the United States, commercial safety on our inland waterways is improving, but, tragically, there are still many accidents in recreational boating. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that in 2009, 736 people died and 3,358 were injured in recreational boating accidents. Of those fatalities, about three-fourths were from drowning. Many of these could have been prevented. In those fatality statistics is the hard fact that 85 percent of the people who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

I applaud the resolution the National Boating Safety Advisory Council issued earlier this month calling for the U.S. Coast Guard to mandate wearing life jackets in certain segments of the boating community.

The next time you go boating, take some precautions so that the women and children — and everyone — onboard might be saved if calamity strikes. Make sure there are enough life jackets for everyone on board. Better yet, wear them.