Keeping the streak going with a strong safety culture at Metrolinx

Safety is the top priority at Metrolinx. It must be top of mind, with no letting up. That’s why the transit agency’s rail facilities team is proud of its streak of three full years without an injury. Metrolinx News has the inside story on behind-the-scenes work to improve the safety culture.

Kevin Hill is not superstitious.

If he was, Metrolinx’s director of rail fleet and facilities maintenance would not be talking about the streak. On May 15, his rail facility asset team marked three years without a single injury.

Knowing this streak is not about luck, but the result of a safety culture, teamwork and attention to detail, Hill is eager to give his team credit.

“I’ve worked in this industry for more than 15 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Hill said. “Everyone on the rail facility asset team should be proud of this significant accomplishment. 

“Kudos to each Amalgamated Transit Union member for their continuous commitment to safety.”

Members of the Metrolinx Rail Facility Asset team routinely work at heights, in spots like this spot in the coach shop at the Willowbrook Maintenance Facility.
Members of the Metrolinx rail facility asset team routinely work at heights, in spots like this one in the coach shop at the Willowbrook Maintenance Facility. (Trevor Kempffer photo)

This team is responsible for the inspection, maintenance and repairs of more than 30,000 assets that are used to house and maintain the GO and UP Express trains at the Willowbrook Maintenance Facility and the 15 layovers across the Metrolinx network. These include everything from the electrical waysides to pumps, HVAC systems and the train wash.

The team consists of specially trained electricians, plant millwrights, HVAC technicians and plant service people.

“These individuals are hardworking, passionate and skilled,” Hill said. “They have so much pride in what they do every day, and this safety accomplishment is a reflection of their dedication to providing safe trains, on time.”

Rail facilities team members perform high-risk tasks in an ever-challenging environment. They often work at heights, in confined spaces and outdoors in the elements.

There’s constant movement at the facilities and layovers with trains coming in and out constantly.

Christopher Daniel, a plant electrician at Willowbrook, is seen here working on circuit breakers. (Trevor Kempffer photo)
Christopher Daniel, a plant electrician at the Willowbrook facility, is seen here working on circuit breakers. (Trevor Kempffer photo)

“They truly are the maestros of making sure our facility assets are in their optimum condition and that our trains depart on time,” Hill said. 

In rail facilities, common injuries can include slips and trips, as well as sprains and strains, but more serious incidents are not unheard of.

This team’s last injury occurred on May 15, 2019, when a worker needed two stiches after cutting their hand on a serrated edge while taping up a cardboard box. Before that, 90 days would have been considered a streak.

Since then, a new safety culture has taken hold at Metrolinx.

“We continually educate, coach, mentor and train each other to ensure we have these necessary tools and awareness to eliminate known and unknown at-risk behaviours” Hill said.  “We have committed to each other that if we see something, we say something.

The focus on safety is renewed at the start of each workday.

“Being dressed and ready, and having a good, sound job briefing, whether it’s one-on-one or in a group, at the beginning of your shift is essential for setting yourself up for success,” Hill explained.

Job briefings help the team build situational awareness and improve their hazard recognition. Anytime conditions change during a shift, staff must reassess.

Maintenance at Willowbrook includes working on the air compressor system. (Trevor Kempffer photo)
Maintenance at Willowbrook includes working on the air compressor system. (Trevor Kempffer photo)

Direct observation is a vital safety tool. It is often combined with pinpointed feedback that needs to be provided right away, whether positive or constructive. The rail facility team has embraced this methodology, and because of this, has achieved this significant safety accomplished. The feedback is not just top down. Front-line members share it with each other and their leaders.

“Rather than telling them what they need to do, we will flip the question upside down, so they’re telling us,” Hill said. “We all care for each other, and we want to make sure everyone goes home safe at the end of the day.”

Tom Brown, Metrolinx’s inventory & hazardous materials specialist can attest to the success of this approach.

“We have the ability to report safety issues directly to our supervisors, so when something is brought up, it goes right to the top of the ladder,” Brown said. “Nobody is afraid to bring up an issue if it is safety related.”

Peer-to-peer relationships are also part of the plan.

“The buddy system works well,” Brown said. “We don’t work in less than twos, where possible, so there’s always someone to watch the other guy’s back.”

Brown points to a strong safety culture at Metrolinx and he also draws on previous experience from his last employer. A safety streak there ended when someone slipped on ice in the parking lot and broke their ankle.

“Nobody wants to see that,” Brown said. “That’s why we do look out for each other.”

This determination is vital for keeping the current Metrolinx streak going.

“We intend to keep going on the way we are, increasing the number of days and getting better at everything we do in terms of safety,” Brown explained. “It’s about continuous improvement – never the status quo.”

Story by Mike Winterburn, senior writer, Metrolinx News