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DATE: September 23, 1999

INCIDENT TYPE: Removal of a Lane Closure while Occupied

LOCATION: District 5

TYPE OF WORK ACTIVITY: Bridge Foundation Investigation Drilling

THE INCIDENT: In January 1999, an Engineering Service Center/Structure Foundation Branch (SFB) drill crew was working in a median left-turn lane on a multi-lane highway. The local maintenance crew provided a lane closure, but told the drillers that local traffic restrictions required closure removal by 3:00 p.m. After work started, the drillers requested extra time to complete the work, but were told that the closure had to be removed by 3:00 p.m. At 2:30 p.m., the drillers told maintenance they could not vacate the closure until 3:15 p.m. The maintenance superintendent was consulted and he ordered the crew to pick up the closure. At 2:45 p.m. the crew started, and the closure was gone by 3:00 p.m. The maintenance supervisor positioned his truck behind the drillers’ equipment, and waved the encroaching traffic back into the travel lanes. Later, a shadow truck parked behind him. The drillers picked up their equipment and called for a CHP traffic break so they could remove their trucks from the road. They were off the site by 3:30 p.m.

Following this incident, the managers for both units requested an investigation by the Office of Safety and Health.

CONCLUSIONS: This incident happened because the safety of the employees, crews, and the traveling public was not made the number 1 priority. The drillers were aware of the time restraints, but were not ready; the maintenance crew, instead of leaving the closure in place and resolving the problem with SFB management later, chose to remove the protective closure anyway. This was a violation of Chapter 8 of the Maintenance Manual that endangered the drill crew, the traveling public and the maintenance supervisor.

After the incident, several employees commented "I was only following orders." as a justification for endangering fellow employees. This type of "blind following" is dangerous, and is contrary to the Caltrans safety program and policy. It would have been better to insist on further investigation before following orders that create an unsafe condition or situation for others.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Clear communication and mutual respect between both crews could have prevented this incident. To make coordination easier, a joint "tailgate safety meeting" between the crews should be held before work starts. Document the meeting on the Safety Meeting Report (PM-S-0110) form.

Employees, Supervisors, and Managers must make Safety the #1 priority in all their decisions. Employees must take responsibility for their personal safety, the safety of their co- workers, and the safety of the public and environment. Employees also have a responsibility to bring unsafe conditions to the attention of their supervisor.

All Caltrans employees are entitled to a safe workplace.


Released 10/3/99

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