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DHR - SAFETY ALERT MEMO 01-04

DATE: November 20, 2001

INCIDENT TYPE: Hazardous Exposure

LOCATION: Districts 5 and 6

TYPE OF WORK ACTIVITY: Litter Pick-up

Incident 1: District 6: On Thursday, November 8, 2001, a maintenance employee from the Bakersfield area was patrolling the highway for litter on SR178 in eastern Bakersfield. The employee stopped to pick up a large piece of cardboard in the median. When the employee loaded the cardboard and other trash into his truck, he noticed a puff of white powder in the air. The employee looked in the bed of the truck and noticed that there was a sandwich bag with approximately one tablespoon of white powder. The employee was wearing gloves which he left in the bed of the truck and notified his supervisor. The employee returned to the Maintenance Station where the truck was quarantined. The employee was not concerned, as he did not feel that he was exposed to the material.

Kern County Environmental Health was contacted and they did not feel that there was a need for immediate response. They tested the powder and it was determined that the material was flour.

Incident 2: District 5: At approximately 8:30 AM November 2, 2001, a CT Maintenance Leadworker was emptying trash cans at a vista point. When he went to one of the cans the lid was down with "Open Me" and matches on the top of the lid. There were two sheriffs units there because they had been conducting a security inspection of a nearby bridge. The sheriff's deputy's tied a rope to the lid and they went behind a tree and pulled the lid off. There was nothing inside except trash.

Incident 3: On Friday, October 12 a suspicious package was found at the northbound off ramp to Camp Roberts (An Army base in District 5). The employees saw the package wrapped in plastic sheeting and cut the sheeting off with a knife. The package had a button marked "press here". The employees pressed the button and nothing happened. The contents looked suspicious enough that they took it to their crew leader that was working nearby. The crew leader put the device in the back of his truck and drove to the gate at Camp Roberts. The people at the gate became very excited and put the device in the back of their truck and drove off into Camp Roberts.

The next day, the supervisor received a call from a special investigator from the Camp Roberts Police. He wanted to talk to the employee that brought the device to the gate. He asked questions about where the package was found and when it was found. He then told our employee that the device was detonated on the base and was found to contain shards of metal similar to shrapnel that is designed to kill or maim.

CONCLUSIONS: All of the incidents above had the potential for injury to the employees involved. Luckily, no employees were injured. All employees should be reminded of the proper procedures for handling suspicious items discovered during their work. This is particularly important because of recent terrorist threats involving California's bridges.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Review the Maintenance Code of Safe Operating Practices on Roadway Litter and Debris, Litter Removal Roadside and for any other work you will be performing. Properly identify any material or object before handling, it may be hazardous. Also review your local list of people to contact when a suspicious item is discovered.

HEADQUARTERS OFFICE OF HEALTH AND SAFETY SERVICES (916) 227-2640

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