Metro is instituting stronger whistleblower protection policies in an effort to safeguard those transit employees who step forward with information about potential safety hazards.

"We think it's extremely important that we encourage people who perceive potential problems in the system, particularly those associated with safety, to report those problems and to feel safe when they do so," said Metro board Chairman Peter Benjamin.

The Metro Board of Directors has approved measures it says will open lines of communication among Metro employees at all levels of the organization and ensure no one is punished for pointing out safety concerns.

The measures include the implementation of federal laws that provide protection for whistleblowers, and the creation of a Whistleblower Hearing Panel to investigate whether an employee who steps forward has been subjected to punitive measures.

Metro Vice Chairwoman Cathy Hudgins said the agency's new whistleblower policies are based in part on suggestions made by the workers' union representing Metro's employees.

"It was their recommendation that we look at enforcing our policies to ensure that we were encouraging people to step forward," Hudgins said.

She and other members of Metro's board said they weren't aware of any instances of employees being punished for stepping forward about safety concerns.

Metro board member Chris Zimmerman said policies already existed at Metro to protect whistleblowers, but the new measures were part of a larger push to improve communication within Metro's personnel ranks.

"We need to ensure that people who know things are not afraid to tell them, and that information that needs to move from the lowest levels of the organization to the highest levels come through," he said.

Zimmerman said he and other Metro officials are also working on ways to improve the organization of information within the agency.

"There's so much information, and there are always warning bells going off all over the place. You have to have a way of sorting it out and filtering what's important," Zimmerman explained.