Published Friday, April 3, 2009, by Bay City News
BART Fined For Safety Violations In Fatal October Accident
The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health this week issued $28,685 in penalties against BART for alleged safety violations related to the death of an employee who was killed on the tracks in October.
BART is appealing the Cal/OSHA citations on the grounds that some of the laws BART allegedly violated may not apply to the transit agency.
James Strickland, 44, was struck and killed by a Pittsburg/Bay Point-bound BART train as he walked along the tracks parallel to David Avenue in Concord the morning of Oct. 14.
Trains were single-tracking through the area that morning to make way for routine maintenance, and the train that struck Strickland was traveling north on the southbound tracks.
On the day of the accident, Strickland and another BART employee, both structures inspectors, were assigned to perform an inspection between Oak Grove and Bancroft roads, according to an accident report completed by BART safety investigators last month.
To do this, they needed "simple approval," which involves notifying BART's operations control center of their plan to work in the area. Strickland did this and obtained the approval.
Employees working under "simple approval" are responsible for their own safety and BART protocol does not require them to be told about reverse-running trains. Strickland and his partner were not told that single-tracking was scheduled to begin in the area at 9 a.m. that day, according to the report.
They headed out in a district truck, arriving at the job site sometime after 8 a.m.
Strickland's partner dropped him off at an access gate on Bancroft Road, then drove north to another access gate on Oak Grove Road, about a mile away.
The plan was for Strickland to walk north along the tracks and the other inspector to walk south. They were to meet in the middle, exchange keys to the truck, and then Strickland would continue to Oak Grove Road and drive back to pick up his partner, according to the report.
However, while performing the inspection, Strickland's partner noticed a maintenance vehicle pass him heading south on the northbound tracks.
A few minutes later, around 9:30 a.m., he saw a northbound train stopped on the southbound tracks. The train's operator was standing in front of the train, inspecting damage to the left side of its front car.
He called Strickland's cell phone to inform him of the situation, but the call went straight to voice mail.
Concerned about his coworker, he continued walking south past the stopped train and saw two BART workers standing along the tracks, where Strickland's body had been found, according to the report.
The operator of the train that hit Strickland later told investigators he had heard a loud noise and initially thought he had hit a tree limb.
It does not appear the operator sounded the train's horn prior to the collision, and he told investigators he had not seen Strickland despite having kept his eyes on the tracks.
The train was traveling at about 67 mph when the collision happened. The 59 passengers on board were held on the train for nearly an hour before being transferred to another train on the opposite tracks.
BART's report concluded that the "most probable cause" of the accident was a failure by Strickland to look in both directions while he was on the tracks.
The report recommended that BART employees working under "simple approval" be informed about reverse-running trains and that train operators be told when those employees are working near tracks.
It also noted that vegetation in the area was overgrown, forcing employees walking in the area to walk on the tracks in some spots, and recommended that BART survey paths along tracks to identify areas with overgrown vegetation and remove it.
In addition, Strickland was wearing a bright safety vest but not his BART-issued vest, which would have made him slightly more visible, according to BART. The report instructed BART to ensure that employees wear the proper vest.
BART spokesman Linton Johnson this afternoon did not immediately know whether any of those recommendations had been implemented.
Cal/OSHA found in its citation notification, issued Tuesday, that BART's "simple approval" protocol fails to adequately safeguard employees because inspectors like Strickland are allowed to work near tracks without being told when trains are entering the area, and train operators are not informed of the workers' presence.
The agency also cited BART for unsafe conditions created by the overgrown vegetation and for allegedly allowing Strickland to work near energized equipment without providing adequate protection.
Cal/OSHA spokeswoman Erica Monterroza declined to discuss the specifics of the case but said all of the violations for which BART was cited are classified as "serious."
"As a serious violation, it has a very high hazard exposure to employees," she said. "It has a very high probability that it will result in serious injury or fatality to employees."
BART spokesman Linton Johnson said BART is appealing the citations and will work with Cal/OSHA to determine whether the laws BART allegedly violated apply to the transit agency.
"They're using rules that may not necessarily be relevant to BART," Johnson said.
"If there is room for improvement we're right there to make those improvements, but ... we don't want to spend taxpayer dollars paying for something that doesn't apply to us," he said.
An excerpt from BART's operations control center employee manual contained in the accident report helps explain why Strickland was not told of the reverse-running trains that day.
"OCC personnel shall not provide information concerning train movement to personnel on a Simple Approval as this tends to give the person in the field a false sense of security.
"If an inquiry is made in regards to train movement, the proper response will be: 'Expect train movement on all tracks at all times in any direction,'" the excerpt reads.
Tom Tetrault, a friend of Strickland's and a BART employee himself, finds fault with that approach.
"It might give them a false sense of security but it might give them the information they need," he said.
Tetrault called Strickland, a motorcycle enthusiast who loved riding his Harley Davidson, "the nicest guy I've ever met" and said he was always doing things to help others.
He used to frequently visit Strickland's home, two blocks from his own house, to have a beer after work.
Strickland left behind his wife Linda and 19-year-old son J.T., Tetrault said.