BART Hit With $210,000 Fine Over Track Worker Deaths

BART has been fined $210,000 by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health for three safety violations that resulted in the deaths of two track workers during a strike last year, Cal/OSHA officials announced today.

Engineer Christopher Sheppard, 58, of Hayward, and contractor Laurence Daniels, 66, of Fair Oaks, were struck and killed by a BART train while inspecting a dip in the tracks between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill BART stations last Oct. 19.

No trains were carrying passengers that day due to a four-day BART strike, but some trains were running for maintenance and training purposes.

BART at the time was using a controversial safety procedure known as “simple approval,” in which track employees were responsible for their own safety and had to be able to clear the tracks within 15 seconds if a train was approaching.

The policy was quickly suspended and then eliminated in the wake of Sheppard and Daniels’ deaths.

One of the violations announced today is specifically related to the simple approval policy. Cal/OSHA cited BART for not instituting proper workplace safety controls that included workers being notified of oncoming trains with trains approaching at speeds in excess of 65 mph.

Also, neither worker that day was operating as a “watchperson” as the train approached, in violation of the simple approval policy.

After BART dropped the policy, the agency now has to slow down, stop or divert trains while maintenance workers are on the tracks instead of allowing them to walk along tracks while trains are still running.

BART had been fined twice before for violations relating to the simple approval policy following worker deaths in 2001 and 2008.

Cal/OSHA also found that BART had not adequately trained its employees in safety procedures. Workers recently given new job assignments had been allowed to perform their duties without completing their training, including the train operator during October’s accident.

The agency also found that the workers had been working on the 1,000-volt “third rail” while it was energized despite not being qualified electrical workers or being under the supervision of someone qualified.

BART has 15 days to appeal the citations and proposed penalties to the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board, Cal/OSHA spokesman Peter Melton said today.

BART general manager Grace Crunican issued a statement today saying that the transit agency has upgraded its safety procedures and solved the issues that led to the worker deaths. She did not say whether the agency planned to appeal.

“BART has fundamentally upgraded its safety procedures with the implementation of an enhanced wayside safety program and a proposed budget investment of over $5 million in additional resources to bolster BART’s safety performance,” Crunican said.

“Cal/OSHA has informed BART these changes correct the concerns which are at the heart of their citations.”

BART is also awaiting a final report from the National Transportation Safety Board on its investigation into the worker deaths and is in the process of implementing new comprehensive safety regulations adopted by the California Public Utilities Commission, Crunican said.

Scott Morris, Bay City News

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