The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is responding to safety concerns following an injury sustained by a Metro worker performing a repair on the Washington, D.C. transit’s electrical rail system Oct. 31.
The worker suffered an electrical burn when coming into contact with a rail that was still electrified as a result of improper adherence to safety procedures by the maintenance crew, as previously reported by WTOP Nov. 24.
The rail worker’s injuries were not life-threatening, and the worker was released from the hospital after a few days.
The electrical burns raised general concerns about Metro’s repair safety procedures and worker protections, despite the injury being a result of worker error.
Bob Lauby, Federal Railroad Administration chief safety officer said that closely following safety procedures is crucial to avoiding incidents such as this one in a Nov. 24 interview with WTOP.
“If there’s one frustration that we’ve all seen with Washington Metro [it’s that] there’s many, many instances of failures to follow the procedures that are put in place to protect both the public and the workers, and this is yet another example,” Lauby said.
D.C. Metro workers do not have insulated mats or tools to protect them from touching the rail, which had not been checked to ensure the power had been turned off. The workers had attempted to turn off the rail using a controller at the rail’s control center, following regular procedure, according to Lauby. However, due to other rail work taking place in the area, more steps were necessary to turn the rail’s electricity off.
In response to the most recent injury, Metro will be adding warning logos to the computer screens in the Rail Operations Control Center, as well as stopping the use of the type of tool used in the incident, which allowed electricity to flow from the rail and burn the rail worker.
This incident is similar to one that took place in January, when two Metro employees sustained electrical shocks when a metal rod came in contact with an electrified rail.
Part of Metro’s ongoing safety efforts include strengthening the Roadway Worker Protection program, which provides “on-track safety to provide employees working along the railroad with protection from the hazards of being struck by a train or other on-track equipment,” according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
“A comprehensive RWP program is part of the safety defenses designed to keep all roadway workers from harm while on the right-of-way,” a WMATA Safety Committee Report released Nov. 16 said.
The Federal Railroad Administration took control of D.C.’s Metro safety in 2015, stepping into the oversight role in response to Metro not adequately addressing safety problems for its workers and passengers.
Two weeks before the worker was injured, Metro completed a safety review at the request of the local Amalgamated Transit Union.
Metro Chief Safety Officer Pat Lavin said it is important to address worker safety concerns as soon as they arise.
“Part of creating a safety culture means taking immediate action to address concerns raised by employees,” Lavin said in a Sept. 21 WMATA press release concerning metro safety reviews.
The Metro has also had a number of “safety stand downs,” a voluntary event for employers to talk directly to employees about safety, since this event occurred, which are “consistent with Metro’s position that ‘safety trumps service,’” according to the Sept. 21 WMATA press release.
Lavin also said that unannounced safety audits on the Metro will begin in the coming months.
In addition to last month’s Metro safety review, two Congressmen, Reps. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and the ATU Local 689 have introduced legislation which includes establishing new safety procedures on the D.C. Metro.
The legislation would create a new task force to review safety in Metro operations and would name this task force for train operators killed while on the job.