Safety Vests and Hard Hats

In typical fashion, only after Metro started killing off their employees did they profess to be somewhat concerned about safety. They began issuing new ‘improved’ safety vests and hard hats to show they were doing something (anything!) to prevent more accidents. Of course, most of the deaths had little or nothing to do with the employees not being visible or not wearing a hard hat, but hey, it looked good — and appearances are all that really matters at Metro.

Actually, the vests did get progressively better over the years up until the latest ‘Class 3’ vests.

In the photo above you can see that the first vests we were issued (far right) were all but worthless, especially at night.  The best one, IMO, was the second from the left, the ‘Class 2’ vest.

The problem with the Class 3 vests is that they can actually cause employees to be injured or killed. Technically they aren’t vests since they have sleeves. They come in two sizes, huge and ginormous. The sleeves are very baggy and prone to getting caught on things.  There have been numerous complaints about this but nothing has been done.  As is often the case, once a decision is made at Metro it rarely gets reversed — even when it is clear to almost everyone that it was erroneous.  The attitude of management seems to be that to admit to even an honest, well-intentioned mistake is to show weakness.  “We have no choice but to continue toward the cliff…”.

The vests are supposed to break-away (pull apart) but the Velcro that is used to hold the two halves together is some sort of super strength industrial Velcro – the vests might as well be one piece.

The other option some employees have is to wear a Class 3 T-shirt which is more of a PITA to put on and take off than a vest but at least it fits relatively snugly. That was my choice. It meant I could only wear a thin fleece jacket in the winter but I decided I’d rather be chilly than dead.

Concerns about the vests have been raised several times and we were told that the Safety dept was ‘looking into it’ but last I knew most employees were still required to wear the killer vests or the T-shirts. Most employees cannot wear the T-shirts in winter because unless they are a couple sizes too big they do not fit over their winter clothes.

It doesn’t do an employee much good to be visible when they’re dead because their vest got snagged on a passing train, or caught on some equipment mounted on the tunnel wall along the cat walk, causing them to fall onto the tracks and come in contact with the third rail and/or get run over.

IMHO, the Class 2 vests were/are perfectly adequate.  They have very good visibility and are not anywhere near as likely to get snagged.

The hard hats are almost as bad. We never wore hard hats until very recently and I’m not aware of one injury or death that could have been prevented had the employee been wearing one. Hard hats have their place – when working near a crane for example – but in ATC they just aren’t necessary when doing our routine work. If anything they are an annoyance and a safety hazard. When walking the tracks and constantly looking down (so you don’t trip) and looking up to check for approaching trains, the brim of the hard hat limits your vision. You can’t just glance up, you have to repeatedly move your head up and down. Sometimes a split second is important when a train is approaching at full speed around a curve. You can’t hear them coming above ground. Also, when working on wayside equipment, the hard hat is constantly falling off and rolling away. They sometimes get blown off by passing trains or strong wind. They’re hot in the summer and prevent employees from wearing a knit cap in the winter (well you can, but then the hard hat is really prone to slipping down and obstructing your vision or falling off entirely).  In short, they’re way more trouble than they’re worth.

This photo shows the most common location for a hard hat while working.

Of course, now Metro has one more potential excuse they can use when the next person gets killed – ‘She wasn’t wearing her hard hat. We specifically told her to wear it but she didn’t listen…’. Never mind the fact that the hard hat would not have prevented her death.

This entry was posted in Management Follies, Safety Incidents, Work Life and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Safety Vests and Hard Hats

  1. Pingback: Reflective vests: not a target for terrorists; good for safety | Raschke on Transport

    • Good post Kurt. Thank you for linking to my blog entry about vests & hard hats.

      I’d like to repeat that In addition to being unpleasant to wear, both the class 3 vests and hard hats (but particularly the vests) can actually be dangerous. The baggy half-length sleeves seem to be designed to catch on any nearby equipment. The last thing you need when walking on a slick narrow catwalk is to be thrown off-balance by clothing that snags on anything protruding from the wall. As I stated in my post, the class 2 vests are more than adequate. The small amount of (potential) additional visibility is not worth the added risk from wearing the class 3 vest.

      An alternative might be to use the other reflective clothing that is available, some of which is certified class 3 — T-shirts, button-down shirts, jackets, coats, etc.

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