By Debbie Hersman
Today, I was pleased to attend the annual Harriman Awards luncheon. These awards recognize the U.S. railroads with the lowest employee injury rates. Congratulations to Norfolk Southern, which claimed its 22nd consecutive gold medal, and to KCS, which received its fifth straight Harriman Award for its category. The Buffalo & Pittsburgh and Gary Railway claimed the top honors in their categories.
In March, I attended Norfolk Southern’s Safety Expo and Awards and visited its export coal operations. I saw stenciled on a railroad shed: “think safe, work safe, home safe.” Yet, safety is more than a slogan at Norfolk Southern. It is a vigorous and mature safety program as well as 22 consecutive Harriman Awards.
This was the 99th year for the Harriman Awards, which started in 1913 when tens of thousands of workers, passengers, pedestrians, and assorted ‘trespassers’ perished in railroad accidents. The railroads have come a long way in safety — from thousands killed on the job a century ago to an annual average of 20 employee-on-duty fatalities over the past ten years.
Yet, as I told the luncheon audience, as we saw last month outside Red Oak, Iowa — when a train collided into a maintenance-of-way equipment train and killed two railway workers — there is more work to do, especially in addressing the human element. It’s important to always be vigilant and to never stop working on safety improvements.