Before grade-crossing flashing lights and gates or train horns were invented to warn of an approaching train, steam locomotives were outfitted with a big brass bell mounted on top of the boiler. It would be rung by the crew to alert people and animals that a train was coming down the track.
We’ve come a long way since those days, but the brass bells of yesteryear remain a symbol of our industry, especially at BNSF. We’ve preserved many of these bells from our predecessors and for more than 20 years have used them to recognize work teams that achieve the best safety performance each year.
“The safety bells are one of our oldest forms of safety and they have saved countless lives by warning people about approaching trains. That’s why it is our highest honor to win the Safety Bells,” Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer Matt Igoe said during the bell presentations.
These coveted awards are proudly displayed in the winning locations and the teams are recognized at their work locations. For 2022, the following BNSF teams received Safety Bells:
Best Overall Division – Heartland Division
Best Transportation team – Heartland Division
Best Mechanical Shop teams (tie) – Commerce, California, Diesel Shop and the Havre, Montana, Diesel Shop
Best Field Mechanical teams (tie) – Montana, Powder River and Twin Cities divisions
Best Engineering team – California Division
“We are proud of these teams who are leading the way toward our BNSF Safety Vision of an accident- and incident-free workplace," Mark Schulze, vice president, Safety, Training and Operations Support, said. “These Safety Bells are about teamwork, and each of these teams is a model of how to work together to ensure everyone goes home safely at the end of the workday.”
The Safety Bell trophies are held by the Safety Bell honorees for the year in “Stanley Cup style” and each team is recognized with their own nameplate affixed on the trophy base. Also, all members of the teams honored with a Safety Bell receive a commemorative Safety Bell challenge coin
Here’s a closer look at the individual teams being recognized for their safety excellence in 2022. Congrats to all!
Best Overall Division, Best Transportation Team
One of 10 operating divisions that comprise our system, the Heartland Division, based out of Lincoln, Nebraska, covers key Midwest and Southern states on our network, from Alabama to Tennessee to Missouri and as far north as Iowa.
The Best Overall Division award is the most coveted as it recognizes all the teams in that division that support our operations. This includes Transportation crews who make up trains in yards and intermodal hubs and then run those trains; the Engineering teams that build and maintain our tracks, infrastructure and signal systems; and the Mechanical employees who maintain our locomotives and freight cars.
The Heartland Division’s Transportation team also had the best safety record of all our divisions.
While every division has its challenges, the Heartland team members work in diverse conditions and extreme weather events, including inland hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding, where clear communication is critical.
“We do what works best in safety—communicate, communicate, communicate,” the division's Superintendent of Safety and Operating Practices Chris Musgrove said. “Our team members know each other personally. They make it a point to pause work when necessary and speak openly about safety concerns and successes.”
The division also has a safety mantra: “One Team, One Common Goal.”
“Our employees’ commitment to one common goal and ownership of their safety and the safety of those around them have taken us one step closer to a workplace free of all accidents and injuries,” General Manager Tony Fulton said. “Congratulations to all of our team, and let’s continue the momentum into 2023.”
Best Mechanical Shop and Field Teams
For the Field Mechanical teams that perform repairs to equipment while on track, 2022 ended with a tie for first place between our Twin Cities, Powder River and Montana divisions. For the Mechanical shops, where our locomotives are maintained and repaired, the Havre and Commerce shops tied for top honors in their category. All these Mechanical teams finished the year with no reportable injuries in 2022.
“I am absolutely honored and extremely proud to be part of the tremendous accomplishment this team has achieved,” Mike Lechuga, general foreman III, Commerce, said. “This is our team’s second consecutive Safety Bell award and the fourth in the last five years. The Commerce Locomotive team has undoubtedly demonstrated genuine care and commitment to working safely.”
Best Engineering Team
Engineering teams are responsible for inspecting, constructing, maintaining and repairing BNSF's track, signals and train control systems, bridges, tunnels and structures along the right-of-way. The work is mainly outdoors, in all kinds of climates and conditions. To compound their challenges, the California Division is one of our busiest, with much of it double- and triple-tracked to handle heavy volume.
The division’s Engineering team attributes their safety success to their concern for one another. “We’re committed to the safety of ourselves and our coworkers before anything else,” General Director of Line Maintenance Adam Richardson said.
Across the BNSF network there are countless teams who continue to add days to their injury-free steaks. That’s a credit to their commitment, focus and care for each another. Thanks to all our employees who continue to model the way in safety — the most important thing we do.
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