What Baseball Can Teach Us about Building a Safety Culture

By Debbie Hersman

I talked about the national pastime in a speech I gave today to the Air National Guard’s Executive Safety Summit.

Albert Pujols
St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols

In ten years, Albert Pujols, first baseman of the St. Louis Cardinals, has never hit below .300, never had fewer than 100 RBIs, and never hit fewer than 30 home runs. Yes, number 5 has talent, but he works at it. It’s interesting to see the parallels between what Pujols does and what organizations can do to build a strong safety culture.

One, it starts at the top. Just like Pujols focuses on a single goal — winning the World Series — the organization must place top priority on achieving and maintaining a strong safety culture. Commitment and responsibility start at the top.

Two, to have a strong safety culture you must work at it, like number 5. Pujols has a disciplined workout routine. For example, on Monday, he does one set of exercises. On Tuesday, it’s another set to focus on another set of muscles. And so on. As for his game, Pujols works hard at that, too. He takes 15,000 to 20,000 practice swings a year.

Similarly, an organization needs a well-defined and rigorous safety program, such as a safety management system. Safety Management Systems (SMS) enable organizations to identify and manage risk and to have processes that enable them to manage risk far better than before. The discipline and standardization from an SMS sets the stage for the culture to follow.

Three, in a strong safety culture, there is a commitment, and there are mechanisms, to keep learning. Just as Pujols makes it a point to learn from players he admires, an organization needs to keep learning — not just from mistakes, but from others, and from detecting trends. This is why data gathering programs are so important. This is how you detect, and address, any weak links.

Celebrating Career Achievement

By Debbie Hersman

Sharon Bryson
Congratulations to Sharon Bryson for her selection as a finalist for the 2011 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals

One of the joys of heading up a stellar agency like the NTSB is that I get to lead a group of people who are some of the best and brightest in Federal government. Today, I am pleased to brag to you about one of our “stars.” Sharon Bryson has been selected as a finalist for the 2011 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals. The “Sammies” honor federal employees whose work has made significant contributions to our country. Sharon’s dedication to the families of transportation accident victims has certainly been a significant contribution of which we are proud and grateful.

In 1996, the U.S. Congress tasked the NTSB with providing assistance to family members following major aviation accidents. Sharon joined the NTSB in 1997 to be part of this important new mission, and in 2000, she was named director of the NTSB’s Transportation Disaster Assistance Division. Sharon worked diligently to create and define a program that has impacted the lives of tens of thousands of family members of those killed in, and survivors of, transportation disasters. Sharon has participated in the family assistance efforts following more than 140 major transportation accidents. But Sharon went beyond the task set by Congress and extended the program’s reach to smaller accidents and to accidents in other modes of transportation investigated by the NTSB.

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Safe Children, Safe Cars

By Debbie Hersman

Chairman Hersman speaks to students at William Halley Elementary School
Chairman Hersman speaks to students at William Halley Elementary School

Summer is fast approaching and kids are pouring outside to play. Sadly, every year we hear too many news reports about children being struck and killed by a vehicle or dying from heat stroke because of being trapped in a vehicle. The statistics are sobering.

According to KidsAndCars.org, a nonprofit group that works to improve child safety around cars, every week in the United States at least 50 children are backed over by a car. Forty-eight are treated in hospital emergency rooms and at least two children die. Last year, nearly 50 children died from hyperthermia after being left in a hot car – the greatest number since the statistics started being tracked.

These accidents are preventable. Education is the first step.

Continue reading Safe Children, Safe Cars

Everyone is an Accident Investigator at Take Your Child to Work Day

By Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.

NTSB Event at Take Your Child to Work Day
Investigating a bicycle accident

On April 28, the NTSB participated in Take Your Child to Work Day. To learn about the Agency’s mission in a hands-on manner, the children investigated age-appropriate transportation accidents as junior NTSB investigators.

The elementary school students investigated a bicycle accident, the middle schoolers investigated a skateboarding accident, and the high school students analyzed a car accident involving a pedestrian. Each investigative team examined the vehicles, interviewed the victims and witnesses, and identified a probable cause and safety recommendations for their accidents. To cap off their day, the children presented their findings to, and answered questions from, the NTSB Board Members. In addition to the accident investigations, throughout the day there were numerous safety demonstrations and transportation activities for the students.

The participation from the NTSB staff, volunteers, and family members was truly overwhelming and this day demonstrated, once again, how great a place the NTSB is to work.

Students at NTSB's Take Your Child to Work Day
Students and Staff at NTSB's Take Your Child to Work Day

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

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

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