Metro employees fear retaliation when reporting safety concerns, commission says

Some Metro employees fear retaliation for reporting safety concerns, according to the independent commission responsible for overseeing safety practices on Metro.

During a meeting Tuesday, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission said that the rail agency still has a lot of work to do to improve its safety culture.

“What can we do about the fear of retaliation?” asked Chris Hart, chairman of the commission. “Has it been remedied or is it still a problem out there?”

The question came as the commission discussed a report detailing one incident from September when a crew conducted maintenance on the platform edge lights at the Tysons Corner station while the track was still energized, “putting the work crew at risk.”

“They felt that there was no potential for the workers to contact the third rail,” according to the report. “This is not accurate.”

The report said an electrician was worried about safety but did not say anything because the electrician felt “scared” about the possibility of retaliation for raising concerns.

“The electrician stated that they just accept the risk and do not put their job on the line,” according to the report.

During Tuesday’s meeting, commission investigator Bruce Walker called for change.

“We have to put forth an effort to let all employees know that they have to report so that no one gets hurt. They do have avenues to pursue if they feel that they’re being retaliated against for reporting a safety concern,” Walker said.

Hart responded by saying that the commission needed to keep an eye on that.

“When people are afraid to talk that indicates a much deeper issue,” Hart said.

In the September incident, the crew’s safety plan had been approved by the Rail Operations Control Center, which itself came under heavy scrutiny in September when the commission released a blistering audit.

The audit said that the ROCC had a “toxic workplace culture” beset by “sexual comments, harassment and other unprofessional behavior such as attempts to manipulate safety event investigations that create unacceptable safety risks.”

It stated that the ROCC, which functions as the nerve center of the Metro system, had yet to create “an effective safety culture” — which puts all riders at risk.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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