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DHR - SAFETY ALERT MEMO 04-03

DATE: June 14, 2004

INCIDENT TYPE: Close Call

LOCATION: District 11

TYPE OF WORK ACTIVITY: Debris Removal

THE ACCIDENT: The District 11 Safety Office has requested that this recent District 11 newsletter article be distributed statewide:

Most maintenance workers will tell you that working around hazardous conditions truly is all in a day's work. The worker realizes that when it is time to get up in the morning to report to work maintaining our freeways, that this could be the day that he or she gets hurt or fatally injured. It was that kind of day on May 21 for Caltrans Equipment Operator Kathleen Curran who started by preparing to go out on her rounds. As it turned out, she had to face a close call on southbound State Route 163 (SR-163). Kathleen, assigned to the Travelway Crew stationed at the Kearny Mesa Maintenance Yard, picked up her list from the dispatchers and drove away early that morning in her orange pick up truck (equipped with a lift gate for picking up trash and debris off the freeways). The day started out pretty much routine. Kathleen was removing a chair from the iceplant along SR-163 at about 10:30 a.m. She parked her truck partially on shoulder and was attempting to tie down the chair from the passenger side, when she noticed in her peripheral vision a speeding black BMW bearing down on her. All of a sudden loud tire screeches and the sounds of crushed glass and metal were filling her head. "I was in shock that this was happening," said Kathleen. "Everything was moving in slow motion. I thought, 'oh my gosh this can't be happening.' When I noticed that the driver of the BMW was straddling the line and not correcting himself, I kept backing up further off the shoulder until I stumbled and fell backwards into the iceplant." All at once, the freeway came to a complete standstill: the southbound lanes due to the accident and the northbound lanes because of the inevitable gawkers. Kathleen fell pretty hard hurting her right shoulder and lower back. The impact of the crash had pushed her truck across all the lanes of oncoming traffic. It was then hit a second time by a white panel truck, totaling her vehicle. Even with the accident scene ahead, impatient motorists were still trying to creep forward. Shocked and scared, Kathleen did not think about the implications to herself. She regrouped, brushed herself off, ran to her truck to stabilize it and used the radio to call for help. Once she was sure the experts were on the way, she began directing the snarled traffic. This so impressed one eyewitness that she called the public information office after the incident. "I was about 150 feet back from the accident when I saw this woman get up out of the iceplant and start directing traffic," said Susan Sibley, eyewitness to the accident. "I thought, 'boy is she ever brave.' She almost gets killed, but still has her wits about her and starts directing traffic and moving debris out of the way to help cars get through." Sibley called Caltrans to convey what a wonderful job Kathleen did. When informed of this, Kathleen downplayed the compliment, saying she was just doing her job and anyone in her crew would have done the same thing. "If a paramedic was in an accident, he would administer CPR. If a newscaster was in an accident, he would start filming," said Kathleen. "A maintenance worker who is in an accident would direct traffic and help clear the road. It's my job." Kathleen said that maintenance workers must always be vigilant, always looking around in all directions even up, because of the possibility of things flying off ramps and bridges. "It's important to keep your eyes on the road because the drivers aren't," advises Kathleen. "Even with reflective orange (vests) on, we are invisible to the public." According to District 11 Safety Officer Greg Budlong, the number one safety rule is to face traffic whenever possible. Kathleen Curran is proof that this rule works.

(Article from June 3, 2004 District 11 "Not to Scale" newsletter article by Sharon K. Black)

 

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

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