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Safety, Compliance

Why Training is to Blame for Railroad Fatalities and Incidents

When was the last time you discussed the root causes behind railroad incidents? Stick with me here… many of you who know me, know that I am passionate about what I do, the people I work with, and the people and industry I work for.

From the very beginning of my career in the railroad industry, I saw how training becomes the scapegoat for any incident, accident, fatality, and large derailment. If we haven’t met, you should know I am a training, compliance, and regulatory person. I have 25 years of experience in training and development, a Master’s Science degree in Training and Development, and have authored hundreds of railroad safety and rules training programs that have impacted thousands of railroads. I happen to be passionate about training.

Why is Training Always Blamed?

Yet, I believe our industry’s hyperfocus on training can be a distraction from any other cause of incidents that aren’t related to training.

Why do we blame training so often? Why is training always under the microscope after an accident or incident? Unfortunately, I think because it is easy to investigate and easy to do something about. Let’s face it, it is much easier to say our corrective action to prevent future incidents is to re-train or better train employees. And then, we pat ourselves on the back and say we did something tangible to fix the problem. But the root cause is not always so concrete and straightforward.

Beyond Training: Understanding the Root Causes

Have you ever run a stop sign or red light while you were driving? Was that because you didn’t know red meant to stop? I don’t think so. Do you think maybe re-taking driver’s ed and the road test wouldn’t have prevented it?

While training provides an important foundation for safe performance, it is much more difficult to find other underlying causes and corresponding corrective actions that impact complex systems and human factor incidents. But until we do, and we keep focusing on how we are going to fix training, add certifications, re-train employees, etc., we will never do the work of identifying and addressing the other reasons for incidents.

I believe we can get to zero fatalities and serious incidents as an industry. And I’m always thinking about how I can contribute towards that goal. But first, we need to be willing to uncover more complex underlying causes than simply training.

Conclusion and Key Takeaways

Training is essential but should not be the only focus when investigating accidents and incidents in the railroad industry. The root cause is often more complex, and we must be willing to dig deeper to uncover it. Let's not allow training to be an easy scapegoat. We need to work together on identifying and addressing all underlying causes. 

Want to read more about training and changing behavior?

I’ve written about this before: 

Is Training to Blame When There is an Accident/Incident?

The Difficult Aspect of Safety Training: Addressing Attitudes

Take a moment to read this important FAMES Alert regarding Roadway Worker Safety:

https://railroads.dot.gov/sites/fra.dot.gov/files/2023-08/FAMES%20Alert%20final%208.7.23.pdf

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