Boeing workers still scared to raise safety concerns, say FAA-appointed experts

Lauren Rosenblatt, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

Most employees interviewed by the expert panel did not know what safety metric they were working toward. They also didn’t know whether problems they raised had been resolved. About 95% of employees said they did not know who Boeing’s chief safety officer was.

Workers “need to learn who the key people are in that system — so they know who they can go to when the processes don’t work,” Dillinger said.

Many employees also said they did not trust they could report issues anonymously.

Boeing said it has seen a 500% increase in the last year in employee reports through the company’s Speak Up portal, one of those mechanisms for workers to raise concerns. Additionally, more than 40,000 employees have participated in “quality stand downs” at dozens of Boeing sites, where workers brainstorm ways to improve the company’s product system and culture.

“We continue to put safety and quality above all else and share information transparently with our regulator, customers and other stakeholders,” the spokesperson said.

Despite several programs Boeing put in place for workers to report concerns, most preferred to talk directly to their managers, the report found. But there was no evidence that those issues were then captured in a way that could lead to systematic changes.

De Luis recalled standing with workers at one station and asking them the most common problem that they found. Debris left in the plane, they responded, adding that they would report what they found and clean it out. De Luis asked if they ever tried to trace where that debris was coming from.

“They say we report it, someone’s supposed to fix it, and we move in,” De Luis recalled on Wednesday. “But that’s not the way you’re supposed to fix things.”

“I firmly believe you can’t inspect your way to quality and you can’t inspect your way to safety,” he continued. “All it’s gonna take is one slip.”


What else does Congress want to know?

While Cantwell said Wednesday “there is more to be done to implement the recommendations of the report,” it’s not clear what steps Congress will take next.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Missouri, said he was disappointed Boeing employees and executives were not present at Wednesday’s hearing. Cantwell responded that she anticipated hearing from Boeing and the FAA in the future.

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, said he wants more investigation into Boeing’s supply chain, noting that it has outsourced some work to third-party suppliers, who then outsource their own work to international companies.

Cruz, ranking member for the Commerce Committee, said he hopes to hear more about what circumstances led to the panel blowout in January.

“Flying commercial remains the safest way to travel, but understandably recent incidents have left the flying public worried,” Cruz said. “The perception is things are getting worse. The public wants the FAA and Congress to confront perceived risks in order to restore confidence for flyers.”

Following the report’s release in February, Boeing had 90 days to issue a plan to address the results and recommendations. That deadline is set for May 28.

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