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Metro implements workplace safety plan for trolley maintenance

Summary

King County Metro Transit has taken steps to improve training and workplace safety for vehicle maintenance staff in response to two incidents in which mechanics received an electric shock while performing routine inspections of electric trolley buses at the bus base.

Story

King County Metro Transit has taken steps to improve training and workplace safety for vehicle maintenance staff in response to two incidents in which mechanics received an electric shock while performing routine inspections of electric trolley buses at the bus base. At no time did the trolleys pose a safety risk to passengers.

Metro’s safety plan will be sent to the state Department of Labor and Industries, which investigated one of the incidents and fined Metro $10,800 for two safety violations related to training and documentation. Metro will report to L&I prior to a Nov. 1 deadline on how it has remedied the violations.

“Metro’s top priority is the safety of our employees and our customers,” Metro’s Interim General Manager Rob Gannon said. “L&I identified where we fell short in our training program. This plan addresses those shortcomings and strengthens our commitment to maintaining a safe work environment and Metro’s long track record of providing safe transit service.” 

Metro’s safety plan, which will be completed this month, includes:

  • New training for mechanics working with high-voltage electricity at Atlantic Transit Base, which houses electric trolleys;

  • Stronger “Lock Out Tag Out” policies to ensure power is shut off to high-voltage equipment during maintenance;

  • Begin monthly random safety audits for the next 6 months;

  • Reviewing and retraining all employees at Atlantic Base on accident and medical procedures;

  • Reviewing and retraining all supervisors;

  • Conducting a job hazard analysis for all work in maintenance shops;

    The plan includes specific steps related to Metro’s trolley fleet, such as:

  • Disconnecting trolley poles when necessary from the overhead power supply during maintenance and ensuring maintenance staff check for electric current;

  • Ensuring employees are equipped with proper manuals and sufficiently trained before any new fleet is entered into service;

  • Improving communication between Metro’s vehicle maintenance staff and New Flyer, the manufacturer of Metro’s newest trolleys, and Vossloh-Kiepe, the trolley pole system manufacturer.

“We have reviewed all our policies and procedures and put forward an action plan to ensure our employees get the training and guidance they need to safely perform their jobs,” said Grantley Martelly, Metro’s Managing Director of Transit Safety and Security. 

Metro operates the nation’s second-largest trolley fleet, and last year began rolling out its first new trolley buses in three decades. The state-of-the-art electric trolleys manufactured by New Flyer are equipped with low floors for easy boarding, and backup battery power for traveling off-wire. As of October 14, 152 of 174 new trolleys have been put into service.

The L&I citation stemmed from a May 9, 2016 incident during a routine inspection beneath a new 40-foot bus in a maintenance pit. The mechanic leaned against a metal railing while opening a valve on the bus, which subjected him to a charge of 300 volts, according to a preliminary report. The trolley’s power system was connected to overhead wires at the time. It is unclear how many amps – the rate of flow of the electric charge – to which he was exposed. The mechanic received medical attention prior to returning to work.

Trolleys are equipped with what’s known as a “hot coach detector,” which is designed to alert operators or maintenance staff if stray electric current is present anywhere in the bus. During Metro’s internal safety investigation, it was discovered the hot coach detector had been disconnected at the time of this incident.

Fleet engineering immediately inspected Metro’s entire new trolley fleet and confirmed that hot coach detectors were functioning in all other buses. Metro worked with the manufacturer to install a software update across the new trolley fleet so that an additional warning is triggered if the hot coach detector becomes disabled.

On August 31, a second mechanic received an electric shock while inspecting a separate bus from underneath. That mechanic also had opened a valve and touched a steel beam when the shock – estimated at 25 volts -- occurred. Again, the trolley’s overhead power system was connected at the time. According to the investigation, the hot coach detector was working properly but the employee did not check it prior to performing maintenance.

“We work every day to keep our system safe, but all of us will strive to make it even safer,” Gannon said.