Thursday, August 07, 2003

Subway Hazards

Two good articles in Newsday about the hazards to workers and passengers in the New York subway tunnels.
The MTA is shortchanging straphangers' and workers' safety with an antiquated tunnel system and limited employee training for emergencies, critics charge.

"I think what has happened is that the health and safety of the workplace in the subway has been given less consideration than other aspects of the system," said Davitt McAteer, former chief of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. He recently surveyed the system's tunnels for the city's largest transit union and found the situation for riders is worse than for miners.

The safety expert, lawmakers and union leaders want better marked exits, brighter tunnels, improved evacuation procedures and more employee training on helping passengers escape underground dangers
Emergency response procedures in the event of another terrorist attack are one problem:
Subway workers have complained they have been given conflicting lessons about what to do in a terror attack. Some say supervisors have told them to run, while others report being told to stay and help passengers. New York City Transit says workers are told to assist passengers and notify emergency personnel.

Frank Goldsmith, director of occupational health for Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, said of subway employees: "The problem that I feel, personally, is the lack of training and the lack of understanding. They simply are not being given proper training."....

The conductor of that F train said that in five years on the job, he had never been trained for a fire. He also said leaving the station in a dark tunnel was harrowing. "I couldn't see at all," said Florizel Gordon. "You're like a blind man, walking and feeling your way out."

The union said the smoke was worsened by fans operating in the wrong direction - a charge New York City Transit denies.

A tunnel in Queens where a worker was killed in 2001 still does not have enough light, union leaders say. Samuel McPhaul, 49, was killed when he tripped on the tracks and hit the third rail near the Grand Avenue station in Elmhurst. Union officials say better lighting would have made the tunnel safer.
And a rather chillilng article about what happened during a recent subway fire.
Subway conductor Florizel Gordon staggered through the smoky tunnel underneath York Street in Brooklyn, twisting his ankle and falling hard on the tracks. The feeble glare of his Transit-issue flashlight proved useless.

A passenger shouted to Gordon that another passenger was having a heart attack. Gordon picked himself up and walked over to an older man hobbling on a bad knee and experiencing chest pains.

"I told him to cover his face and put his hand over my shoulder, and I helped him out," Gordon, a conductor since 1998, said in the cadence and diction of his native Jamaica.

"Sir, you can't fall down on me," the 41-year-old conductor, himself barely able to stay up, told the stranger. "We have to get out of here."

This was the early-morning subway fire at the York Street station two Saturdays ago. As flames and sparks raged from underneath two subway cars, workers and passengers scrambled the more than 600 feet to the southern end of the platform on the F line before plunging into the dark, smoky tunnel. Now came a treacherous trek of several hundred feet over the tracks to the nearest emergency exit.

"There were no lights," Gordon said. "The tube was pitch black. ... The smoke was so thick. You're like a blind man walking and feeling your way through."
Subway worker safety is being investigated by President Clinton's former Director of the Mine Safety and Health Administration Davit McAteer. McAteer said he was shocked to see that the lighting in the subways was worse than lighting in coal mines.