FATALITY AT LONG BEACH FOCUSES EYES ON SAFETY AT ON-DOCK RAILYARDS

FATALITY AT LONG BEACH FOCUSES EYES ON SAFETY AT ON-DOCK RAILYARDS

The accidental death last weekend of a longshoreman working at an on-dock railyard at the Port of Long Beach has focused attention on the need for more specific safety regulations covering rail-transfer facilities at seaports.

For dockworkers, it was a sad commentary on how safety regulations are promulgated."Longshoremen pay for every gain with their blood," said Michael Zuliani, president of International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union Local 63 in Los Angeles.

On-dock and near-dock railyards, which are designed to speed the movement of containers between ocean vessels and intermodal trains, have had a good safety record in their brief history, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

UNAWARE OF OTHER FATALITIES

Larry Liberatore, director of OSHA's Office of Maritime Safety Standards, and Paul Rossi, also of that office, said they are not aware of any other fatalities at on-dock railyards.

Until last weekend's incident in Long Beach, on-dock railyards were viewed as an extension of rail systems leading to the waterfront, rather than as separate entities requiring specific safety regulations.

OSHA, in fact, is in the process of rewriting its safety regulations for marine terminals, but most of its efforts have been directed toward shipside operations such as container top safety, fall protection devices, handling of hazardous materials, etc.

Mr. Liberatore said OSHA responds immediately to industry petitions involving occupational safety. However, the subject of on-dock railyards was never even raised during a series of public hearings OSHA held this summer as part of the process of rewriting waterfront safety standards.

"And this is an A-to-Z coverage of longshore standards," he said.

The current OSHA regulations have a section on railroad facilities, with 15 items covering activities such as bracing railcars so they don't move during operations, providing a clear passageway for workers between railcars, protecting workers from exposure to moving trains, procedures for opening railcar doors, etc.

NOT MENTIONED IN RULES

Many of the regulations refer to boxcars, flatcars and gondolas. Double-stack railcars and container operations are not specifically mentioned in the regulations.

On-dock railyards are a classic example of how intermodalism has blurred the lines separating the ocean and surface transportation industries. Shipping lines, terminal operators, port authorities, railroads, trucking companies, longshore unions and waterfront employer associations are all involved in some way in rail transfer operations.

The regulatory regime is similarly a hodgepodge of rules and procedures developed by OSHA, state safety agencies and the Federal Railroad Administration.

"I don't know of any combined effort on the national, local or coastwide level where there has been a high degree of coordination in writing specific regulations for vertical standards covering on-dock facilities," said Lou Paulsen, director of risk management at the Port of Tacoma.

Tacoma, which pioneered on-dock rail more than a decade ago, has its own procedures for safety. The port has equipped its yards with a system of flashing lights to warn workers when railcars are being moved. Also, railyard workers communicate with each other via radio devices during switching operations.

STRICTER SAFETY STANDARDS

Mr. Zuliani of ILWU Local 63 said the fatality in Long Beach will result in a call for stricter safety regulations at on-dock facilities when the ILWU begins contract negotiations next spring with the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents waterfront employers.

The incident involved a 37-year-old longshoreman who was working on an intermodal train when another train went through a switch that apparently had not been locked. The second train bumped the stationary one, and the worker fell to his death.

An executive at International Transportation Service, the operator of the on-dock facility, said ILWU Local 13 asked for and was immediately granted an extra position, which will be in charge of checking switches to make sure they are properly secured. Making such a position permanent could be a matter for discussion in next year's contract negotiations.

Terminal operating companies, which are members of employer groups such as the Pacific Maritime Association, also have their own safety regulations.

"Maersk Pacific is acutely aware of the hazards involved in on-dock facilities, and a lot of forethought went into the planning and design of the facility," said Ron Signorino, director of safety at Maersk-Universal, the operating subsidiary of Maersk Inc. in the United States.

Maersk's Long Beach terminal is one of the dozen or so on-dock and near- dock rail transfer yards at West and East coast ports. The number of yards is expected to proliferate, especially in Southern California, where three more on-dock yards are on the drawing boards and at least three additional ones are being discussed.