Our fellow Californians to the north have experienced some controversy over the last few weeks in the wake of a strike by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. During the strike, two BART workers were killed when a train hit them while they were on the tracks. They were performing a track maintenance check. We wrote about this incident a few weeks ago — but there has been an update.
A couple of BART officials were called before California legislators recently to answer some questions about a workplace rule that BART has — one that is controversial and had been targeted by the California Division of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) a few years ago.
The protocol of “simple approval” made BART rail workers responsible for their own safety out on the rails. They are required to give themselves 15 seconds of time to escape the tracks (should a train approach) under the policy. However, “simple approval” fails in multiple respects. First, BART trains routinely travel at 70 or 80 miles per hour, so it is difficult to judge “15 seconds” of leeway; and second, how is one person supposed to perform his or her job effectively while also looking out for a speeding train?
So an update to the “simple approval” protocol in 2008 (following a fatality on the rails) forced workers to work in pairs, with one serving as a lookout. Clearly that didn’t help, and OHS called for a change to the “simple approval” policy in 2009. Nothing was done though because BART appealed the OHS order.
And now here we are, with no changes in BART policy and two more fatalities. The workplace is supposed to be safe for employees, and their employers are supposed to make logical rules that help protect those employees from a dangerous workplace accident. When employers fail to provide a safe workplace for their employees, they open themselves up to liability.
Source: Bay City News, “Legislators Grill BART Managers Over Policies That Might Have Led To Three Deaths,” Nov. 7, 2013