General Motors is launching a "Speak Up for Safety" program to recognize employees for ideas that make vehicles safer -- and for speaking up when they see something that could compromise customer safety. 

“GM must embrace a culture where safety and quality come first,” GM CEO Mary Barra said. “GM employees should raise safety concerns quickly and forcefully, and be recognized for doing so.”

Barra spoke at an employee townhall meeting on Thursday, April 10. The company's "Speak Up for Safety" campaign is intended to remove perceived and real barriers to candid conversations between employees and their leaders, in hopes of fostering a “safety first” culture, the company said.

Barra noted that reporting issues only matters if there is follow-up. She said the Global Vehicle Safety Group will be responsible for taking action or closing issues within a prescribed time period.

“We will recognize employees who discover and report safety issues to fix problems that could have been found earlier and identify ways to make vehicles safer,” she said. Details will be announced in the next 30 days.

Separately, Barra confirmed that two GM engineers have been placed on paid leave following a briefing from Anton Valukas, the former U.S. attorney overseeing an independent investigation into circumstances leading to a safety recall of 2.6 million older GM cars for ignition defects.

“This is an interim step as we seek the truth about what happened,” Barra said. “It was a difficult decision, but I believe it is best for GM.”