NTSB Most Wanted List—better if the Top 10 was selected by Safety Management System’s Analysis?

Share this article: Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin

Article: NTSB Releases Top 10 Most Wanted List of Transportation Improvements for 2014

The NTSB has created a very visible safety initiative by issuing its Top 10 Most Wanted List. This year’s targeted problems are:

1. Light, heavy and commuter rail safety culture and operational practices

2. Helicopter operations

3. Occupant protection

4. Passenger vessel safety

5. Distraction in all modes of transportation, especially the dangers of using portable electronic devices while operating a car, train, plane or marine vessel

6. Fire Safety: focusing on power sources, survivability in the event of a fire, and improving fire detection and suppression systems

7. General Aviation: Identify and communicate hazardous weather.

8. Pipeline Safety

9. Positive Train Control

10. Substance-Impaired Driving

Numbers 1-4 are all new to the 2014 priorities. Deleted from the 2013 compendium are:

· Improve Safety of Airport Surface Operations

· Improve Safety of Bus Operations

· Preserve the Integrity of Transportation Infrastructure

· Mandate Motor Vehicle Collision Avoidance Technologies

The GA Safety and Impairment of Drivers repeat from the 2012 high risk itemization; interestingly, that year’s array included Safety Management Systems . No longer a priority.

The new set of actions upon which transportation companies should seek to improve now include 4 which are multi-modal, two that involve aviation, two for rail/train, one on ships, and one dealing with pipelines. This is an interesting array of targets for 2014.

The NTSB press release includes an impressive set of numbers associated with each risk, i.e. millions relying on the safety of transit safety; 1,400 helicopter accidents in 2003- May,2013 and 1,466; GA accidents in 2011, resulting in 444 deaths; etc. These numbers are important, but there is no clear regime of why the NTSB selected these 10 for 2014, dropped four from the past year and repeated two from 2012.

As noted in the introductory paragraph, the NTSB Top 10 Most Wanted List has significant impact. Because a specific problem is highlighted there, agencies and companies respond to the MWL by devoting resources to these highlighted targets. Congress cites them in its legislative action (though the Transportation Infrastructure deficit noted in 2013 and dropped from 2014 did not seem to have any significant appropriation of federal funds for bridges, tunnels, runways, etc.?). News media frequently repeat these findings, particularly when the story is about a cited deficiency. The NTSB even quotes its MWL in its own accident proceedings.

Given the significance of the NTSB’s MWL, should not its development and prioritization be more transparent? Might not the decision to add or subtract be based on an analytical discipline? For example, do not these words seem to provide guidance for the formulation of a MWL:

These programs establish processes to collect and analyze data on potential safety problems and then evaluate mitigations to resolve the safety risk before an accident happens.   They help to predict and correct problems to prevent accidents, but they are also a natural complement to investigations when accidents do occur. A fundamental principle of such systems is nonpunitive reporting that applies to both operating companies and the personnel involved in transportation organizations.

SMS and system safety programs can be effective in all organizations regardless of size. It is important to have information on how to scale these programs—from the smallest operators with just a few personnel and vehicles, to large organizations with thousands of employees and large numbers of vehicles and facilities. Regardless of the size of the organization, it is possible and necessary to foster a safety conscious environment that will identify hazards early on and mitigate the associated risks.

The quote is drawn from the NTSB 2011 MWL in a recommendation to all transportation operators to adopt SMS. Yes, making judgments across modes will be difficult, but given the plethora of numbers available to the NTSB , might not values be assigned which would account for those variables? The task requires expertise and the Board includes Member Hart whose academic training is quite quantitative, whose resume is trans modal (highways and aviation) and whose previous work involved the creation of some of the most robust number collection/analysis (FAA Assistant Administrator for the Office of System Safety).

Such a process would produce a MWL with prioritization based on hard numbers (and ranking #1 versus #2 by a specific margin), with cost/benefit and feasibility assessments and with the imprimatur of an internationally recognized analytical tool and used by the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization.

Without question, the NTSB’s Top 10 Most Wanted List would have even greater credence if its prioritization was based on the rigors of Safety Management System’s data collection and analysis.

Share this article: