Genesee & Wyoming

Published on Nov 12, 2016

Getting Safety on Track in a Dynamic Environment Unforgiving of Unsafe Behavior

Beginning the Safety Journey at G&W

In 2006, safety performance at G&W varied widely across the company’s operations. With a workforce numbering 2,500 employees at the time, the company recorded 54 injuries. G&W was in the midst of multiple acquisitions. Expansion was an on-going focus. Yet, instead of merely concentrating on the financial and business aspects of growth, G&W leaders were rightfully concerned about the need for controlling the safety performance in an environment that was in continual flux. G&W sought advice from dss+, a global company renowned as an owner/operator with world-class safety performance.

dss+, the operations consulting firm, identified safety issues that were the result of a dispersed workforce with a high turnover of staff. After considering a variety of consultative and skill-development approaches offered by dss+, G&W leaders hired dss+ to conduct a series of instructor-led safety leadership workshops in regional locations near G&W sites.

"I had taken part in dss+ line supervisor workshops twice before joining G&W and was an advocate for them right from the start," recalls Tyrone James, Senior Vice-President of Safety & Compliance. "dss+ name is synonymous with safety. They’re the gold standard on safety."

G&W safety achievements with dss+

  • A 70% improvement in the combined injury- frequency rate per 200,000 hours since 2007
  • … while increasing the workforce from 2,500 to 7,500 people
  • More than 5 times safer than the average US short line railroad
  • A safety performance that is approximately two times better than the Class 1 average.

All ten of G&W's senior regional vice presidents took part in the first workshop with the objective of cascading the knowledge gained down to each region. James is clear: "I see tremendous value in the dss+ workshops. They are about accepting personal accountability, recognizing one's shortcomings in safety and modeling a behavior that we want people to emulate."

William Jones manages the partnership between dss+ and G&W. He recalls meeting James and the entire G&W leadership team for the first time. "I was immediately struck by Tyrone James' passion for safety and how much he cared about everyone who worked at G&W. Safety is personal to him and his passion permeates the organization."

Reflecting on his experience working with G&W, Jones observes. "G&W is just one of those companies that really gets it when it comes to safety. G&W's focus on working safely is apparent when you talk to anyone in the organization - from the board chairman to the operator in the yards - and it is gratifying to know dss+ longstanding partnership with G&W is an essential piece of G&W's never-ending safety journey."

The dss+ safety leadership workshops are just one part of G&W's overall safety program. G&W's program also includes Operation Lifesaver, which educates local communities on grade crossing awareness, monthly conference calls with all senior regional leaders that have safety as the first point on the agenda, internally-developed safety training classes and processes based on dss+ safety management philosophy, to name a few. G&W previously performed inspections, but now performs safety audits because, as James says, "audits focus on people while inspections focus on things." dss+'s focus on employee engagement is one of the reasons G&W felt dss+ safety leadership workshops were a great fit for the way G&W works. The curriculum emphasizes dss+ philosophy that safety is a line management responsibility and includes a demonstration of dss+'s 6-step safety observations process, incident investigation methodology and ways participants can integrate safety rituals into their daily work practices to create a culture of safety excellence in their work environment.

"With dss+, safety is a line management responsibility. I can see the change in attitude among participants of the workshops. They are different people leaving the workshops compared to the people who come in."


The Challenge:

Integrating a variety of safety cultures & beliefs under one common safety philosophy

G&W is a company that has grown primarily by acquisition. The rapid expansion presented corporate leaders with the daunting challenge of uniting new people from different companies with different safety cultures, demographics and standards behind one common goal of uncompromising world-class safety. G&W leaders could ill-afford to introduce new employees to G&W without a mechanism to quickly help them understand, work and live by G&W’s approach to safety management. James concedes, "It is challenging to integrate all these new companies."

G&W decided to use safety as a rallying platform and dss+'s safety leadership workshops as a cultural integration tool to bring together diverse cultures behind a common safety philosophy. dss+ approach was particularly important to G&W as some of the newly acquired companies did not share G&W’s belief that safety is a core value and all injuries are preventable.

G&W CEO Jack Hellman explains the company's decision to use safety as the platform to manage the company's growth and integration in this way. "In addition to our obvious desire to see every employee return home safely to his or her loved ones at the end of every shift, people knowing that their personal well- being is the company’s top priority helps create a positive work environment in which to run an outstanding business."

Echoing the CEO's sentiments, James explains, "dss+ is critical for our growth. With dss+, safety is a line management responsibility. I can see the change in attitude among participants of the workshops. They are different people leaving the workshops [compared] to the people who come in."

G&W believes safety is an investment in people because safety is about people

G&W runs an average of 10 workshops a year with each workshop accommodating up to 25 participants. The workshops rotate through hub cities such as Montreal, Atlanta, San Diego, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, London in the UK and Newcastle, just north of Sydney in Australia.

"The workshops are an investment G&W makes in you as a person," James explains. "Safety is not just the job of the safety manager. You’re there every day. You become the standard. You have to live by example."

G&W's employee slogan is 'It Starts with Me'. G&W leaders emphasize this critical point to the organization by selecting the workshop participants from every corner of the corporation including administrative staff, vendors, contractors, customers and executive board members. By mid-2016, 1,342 G&W employees at every level of the organization had participated in approximately 60 safety leadership workshops.

Remarkably, the indefatigable James attends nearly every workshop around the world. When asked why he maintains such a grueling travel schedule, he explained that from his perspective there is no better way to visibly demonstrate G&W's commitment to safe operations and the company’s deep investment in G&W people.

James' active participation is the embodiment of dss+ foundational principle for visible felt leadership, but one of many ways senior leaders at G&W demonstrate their commitment to safety.

"Without question, we have found that the attention to detail required to eliminate injuries translates to every aspect of operations, resulting in not only injury-free railroads but also efficient, well-run railroads with high customer satisfaction."


At least eighty-five employees, including the CEO, have repeated the course. "My number-one responsibility as CEO is the safety of our employees," explains Hellmann. "… and G&W's core purpose is to be the safest and most respected rail service provider in the world. My attendance at the workshops helps demonstrate that those aren’t just words on a page. The workshops haven't changed the message, but they reinforce that it’s every employee's responsibility – and that includes me – to eliminate unsafe behaviors and unsafe conditions from the workplace. The workshops instill both the belief that all injuries are preventable and a methodology for their prevention, which attendees bring back to their railroads."

James points out that he likes to make sure employees attend the workshop every three years to keep safety fresh in their minds, and reinforce the fact that safety is a core value, and not just "flavor of the month".

The Proof is in the Results:

Headcount grew 300%, injuries fell by 70%.

Given the number of acquisitions, the increase in employee numbers from 2,500 to 7,500 and the vast increase in geographical spread of G&W operations, one could be forgiven for thinking that maintaining safety performance at 2006 levels would be quite an achievement. Yet as Jack Hellmann says, "Since G&W began the dss+ workshops in 2007, the combined injury-frequency rate per 200,000 hours for our railroads had by April 2015 improved by 70%, from 1.67 to 0.51, even as the number of employees more than doubled through new acquisitions. That's more than five times safer than the average U.S. short line railroad. The workshops are a key aspect of the G&W safety culture that produces that industry-leading performance."

The figures also compare very favorably with the U.S. Rail Industry's Safety Performance for Class 1 Railroads' average of 1 IFR per 200,000 man hours. And in 2016, G&W is on track for year-over-year safety performance improvements with further reductions in the injury rate.

G&W's safety performance has not gone unnoticed. In fact, the company is realizing a competitive advantage with customers and the G&W brand being associated with safety excellence. G&W's safety performance has been recognized with numerous awards including the Jake Award with Distinction in 2015, presented to 75 G&W railroads for completing the year with a perfect safety record. James himself was named American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) Safety Professional of the Year in 2012.

Hellmann sees the impact and value from the dss+ workshops in other parts of the business as well. His perspective is that the concepts covered in the workshop have helped drive performance improvements in productivity, down-time, general employee commitment and motivation.

"Without question, we have found that the attention to detail required to eliminate injuries translates to every aspect of operations, resulting in not only injury-free railroads but also efficient, well-run railroads with high customer satisfaction," he says.

The Safety Journey never ends

In 2015, G&W acquired the Freightliner Group (FG), a leading rail freight provider with businesses in the United Kingdom, continental Europe, Australia and the Middle East. FG employs approximately 2,500 people. G&W quickly introduced FG to the dss+ workshops as part of the established integration process. To date, FG has participated in an estimated 12 safety leadership workshops in the UK, Australia and Poland with many more courses being scheduled for sites in the Netherlands, Italy and Germany. Since dss+ is a global company, it has the advantage of providing G&W with instructors who are fluent in the local language and familiar with the cultural norms. FG is already seeing the results. Initial lagging indicators show an uptick in safety performance from rapidly decreasing injury frequency rates.

James is planning to continue the dss+ workshops for at least another year before exploring the next level of dss+ offerings to further advance G&W's safety culture. "They [the workshops] help our new employees understand our culture and improve theirs," he says.

G&W's vision is to be an injury-free company. In partnership with dss+, G&W is on the right track towards setting the gold standard for safety performance in the railroad industry.

About G&W

Genesee & Wyoming owns or leases 121 freight railroads worldwide that are organized in 10 operating regions with 7,500 employees and more than 2,800 customers.

  • G&W’s eight North American regions serve 41 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces and include 114 short line and regional freight railroads with more than 13,000 track-miles.
  • G&W’s Australia Region provides rail freight services in New South Wales, the Northern Territory and South Australia and operates the 1,400-mile Tarcoola-to-Darwin rail line.
  • G&W’s U.K./European Region is led by Freightliner, the U.K.’s largest rail maritime intermodal operator and second-largest rail freight company. Operations also include heavy-haul in Poland and Germany and cross-border intermodal services connecting Northern European seaports with key industrial regions throughout the continent.

G&W subsidiaries provide rail service at more than 40 major ports in North America, Australia and Europe and perform contract coal loading and railcar switching for industrial customers.