HEALTH and SAFETY Worker killed in Washington metro accident 17 Oct 2013
Armand van Wijck, TunnelTalk
- A fatal accident during maintenance work in an underground section of the Washington DC Metro in the USA has been described as workers not paying due care and attention to their surroundings. A manager of the operating authority reporting to the Metro Board said: "We call it situational awareness, and the question is, how do we get the situational awareness down to the employees, such that they understand the consequences of their actions. Many things were in violation of the prescriptive safety rules."
- The maintenance shift worker died after being struck by a 12m piece of rail while completing maintenance work on the Washington metro. Two other Washington Metro Area Transport Agency (WMATA) employees were also injured during the same incident, which occurred in the Red Line tunnel between Union Station and Judiciary Square Station.
- About 100 employees and contractors were working during a weekend shutdown on October 6 (2013) on Washington metro's Red Line, to remove old sections of rail and install new sections. One of them was Harold Ingram, a 41-year-old contractor employed by rail construction company Holland Co. At the time of the accident, at about midnight, he was welding rail sections together inside the tunnel approximately 122m from Union Station platform.
Pettibone style crane for lifting rail track
- Soon afterwards WMATA started an investigation in collaboration with contractor Holland Co. and K&J Safety and Security Consulting. On October 10 (2013) Robert Trout, WMATA Assistant General Manager, provided a public update on the investigations in front of the WMATA Board Safety Committee.
- "At approximately three minutes past midnight a production crew reported a large fire coming from a welding head," said Troup. The crew was performing flash-butt welding. The emergency shut-off on the welding equipment was activated and the employees used fire extinguishers to extinguish the fire. "This incident prompted a secondary incident where three people were struck by a 12m segment of running rail," said Troup.
- The fire seems to have been caused by a small tear in a hydraulic fluid supply hose. The machine used to maintain the rail tracks was a self-moving gantry train with an attached grinder, and at the end a welder head. The rail grinder, which is used to prepare the rail pieces for welding, uses hydraulics to pull itself to the edges of the rail. "A mechanic was getting ready to put the hose onto the grinder. But when he did, the small tear in the hose opened up," said Troup. This resulted in a spray of hydraulic fluid which splashed the welding head just after a weld had been finished. "The effect is more or less the same as a can with aerosol spray combined with a match. It caused a large flame to set the welding head on fire, which was put out with fire extinguishers," said Troup.
Accident occurred near Red Line Union Street Station
- During this part of the incident a Pettibone, a small self-propelled train with a crane attached, was working approximately 21m from the welder head. The crane is used to lift existing pieces of rail track off the ground to enable maintenance crews to replace it with new track. The winch and rail anchor, or rail dog, on the Pettibone, had just been attached to a piece of existing rail which was still seated in the fastener plates. "Upon the initial flash from the fire, the Pettibone crane moved backwards, causing the rail to be lifted abruptly from the fastener plates," said Troup. "This is considered as a secondary incident as a result of the primary fire." When the Pettibone backed up it tightened the winch and pulled the rail out of the fastener at force, striking Ingram in the chest. He died on the way to hospital of his injuries. The two WMATA employees - one track worker and one supervisor - also were transported to local hospitals and are being treated for injuries that are serious but considered non-life-threatening. "The preliminary cause of death was determined to be blood trauma to the chest," said Troup. "Neither of the other two WMATA personnel broke their leg, nor did they suffer any burns."
Following the incident, all Red Line track work was suspended, and a safety stand down was ordered to brief Red Line crews on the incident, offer counseling services, and re-instruct employees on safety procedures. "This is a point of people not paying attention. We call it situational awareness," said Troup. "The question is: how do we get the situational awareness down to the employees, such that they understand the consequences of their actions. Many things were in violation of the prescriptive safety rules."
- "But as far as this incident goes, I have no doubt that someone out there must have recognized that the situation was unsafe. Why did that person not speak up? Employees must feel free to speak up without being afraid of retribution," said Troup. "One might also ask if it is normal to have two large pieces of equipment so close together. This is the kind of thing we will be looking at as the investigation goes forward. We do have buffer zones between different areas of work. We normally use a 91m buffer between fasteners and flash-butt welders."
- The investigation is still active but WMATA has suspended all flash-butt welding activities in the meantime pending the outcome of an investigative report.
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