SENSE safety coordinator retires

One of the original coordinators who helped put the SENSE safety program into operation on the CSX properties has retired effective December 7.

Brother Don Miller helped draft the original SENSE safety manuals back in 1997 when the program was implemented system-wide on CSX. He retires after 45 years of service on CSX and its predecessor lines.

When the BLE declared a "Safety Strike" against CSX in the summer of 1997 following a rash of fatalities and injuries, the BLE knew something had to be done. Larry James, former Coordinator of the BLE Education & Training Department, along with Miller, Curtis Driggers and Richard Taylor, developed a safety program that emphasized peer intervention over punitive discipline procedures. They called the new safety program SENSE, which is short for "Structured Employee Network for Safety Empowerment."

The program gives frontline locomotive engineers the ability to address safety concerns and recommend improvements through a network that ultimately reaches CSXT senior management and sometimes the Chief Executive Officer.

Before SENSE came along, Miller said labor-management relations on CSX were so bad that management wouldn't even talk to the BLE. Now he says there's a 100 percent improvement.

"Locomotive engineers are treated like ultimate professionals under SENSE, and the more professional they are the safer they'll be," he said. "Not many people can do our jobs."

Miller was instrumental in the success and implementation of SENSE, and has dedicated many long hours to make sure things get done right.

In 1997, Pete Carpenter tabbed Jim Schultz to be the railroad's top safety officer, bringing him on board from the Federal Railroad Administration. Miller credits this as one of the first steps by the railroad toward cultural change for the better. But it was the BLE that developed SENSE.

SENSE has been highly successful over the years, reducing injuries by upwards of 50 percent in some regions of the CSX system. The SENSE program has also been instrumental in the training of BLE critical incident coordinators at most locations. Additionally, the SENSE network has handled over 4,200 unsafe conditions reports to a timely, successful conclusion since 1997.

One of the biggest challenges for SENSE came when CSX and Norfolk Southern acquired various parts of Conrail in June of 1999.

In essence, CSX added more than 1,300 locomotive engineers to its roster - engineers who needed to be trained under the SENSE safety program. In spite of these numbers, SENSE still contributed to very positive results. Currently, more than 50 percent of former Conrail engineers have been trained under SENSE. This is due in part to the efforts of Tom Vassie, Coordinator of the SENSE program on the former Conrail lines.

In recent months, SENSE has targeted locomotive engineers with five years of experience or less. The idea is to provide training and mentoring to younger engineers in the belief that they will develop positive safety habits to use throughout their careers.

For Brother Miller, his retirement is a reason to focus attention on the SENSE program, and not himself.

He joined the railroad industry in 1956 and earned his promotion to locomotive engineer in 1961 for the Pierre Marquette. He held several elected BLE offices during his career, including local chairman and vice-general chairman of the CSX Northern Lines.

He said the single biggest challenge for SENSE lies in convincing engineers to put safety ahead of productivity, because so much rests on their shoulders.

"If locomotive engineers are safe, then everyone else on the crew will be safe," he said.


2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers