BART issued citations for violations of worker safety

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In light of the deaths of two Bay Area Rapid Transit workers last year, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, Cal/OSHA, has fined BART $210,000 for three “willful and serious” violations of worker safety.

The workers, transit district employee Christopher Sheppard and contractor Laurence Daniels, were hit by an oncoming train Oct. 19 near the Walnut Creek BART station. The accident occurred while BART workers were on strike.

One of the causes behind the deaths, according to Cal/OSHA spokesperson Greg Siggins, was the inexperience of the train operator. The conductor was in training, and the trainer in charge was not inside the control pod with the employee at the time. As a result, the trainer did not have a clear view of the rail, and the collision ensued.

The division also found that workers were being asked to do tasks for which they had no formal experience. Unqualified workers were using aluminum track gauge while the electric third rail, the additional rail supplying electric current to BART trains, was online. According to Siggins, there are other track gauges that could have been used that don’t conduct electricity and thus wouldn’t pose safety concerns.

BART’s “simple approval” process, in which only one person needs to be on watch to alert their co-worker that a train is coming, was also seen as a cause of the accident.

“(The simple approval process) puts employees in charge of their own safety,” Siggins said. “It is the employer’s job and responsibility to make sure safety regulations are being mandated.”

A statement released by a union that represents BART employees said workers have repeatedly raised concerns about the simple approval process and its possible contributions to the deaths of the trackway personnel.

Although the safety citations are abated, meaning none pose continuing safety hazards, BART will be fined for all the citations issued. It now has 15 working days to pay the fine or appeal to the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board.

In response to the citations, BART released a statement Thursday announcing that it had revised some safety procedures. According to BART General Manager Grace Crunican, BART has upgraded its safety procedures, to include better communication between the Operation Control Center and workers, reduced train speeds when workers are close by and a mandatory watch person.

In addition to the new safety procedure changes, BART has added more than $5 million to its budget to improve safety performance.

While the safety enhancements might mean more delays for passengers, BART urged in its statement that riders be patient and understanding, as “a safer system for our employees will provide for a safer system for our riders and a better BART.”

Contact Chris Tril at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ctril.