Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Houston METRO targets worker safety during summer’s extreme heat

Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Houston, Texas (METRO) and contractor Houston Rapid Transit are blazing light-rail tracks on the North, East and Southeast lines and chilling 9,000 pounds of ice each day to make sure crews stay cool enough to work during the season's high temperatures. The transit authority says maintaining safety on the new lines (scheduled to open in 2014) calls for expertise and coordination and Safety Coordinator Daniel Motley has plenty to offer. Motley comes to METRO with 30-plus years of experience, most recently in the mid-east as construction safety leader for one of the largest petro-chemical projects ever attempted. Today, he is in the field daily, checking on rail expansion crews and work conditions.

He noted, "This safety program is excellent and we are doing everything possible to protect our workers."

Crews are given regular training to prevent and recognize heat illness. Construction schedules are adapted for worker safety so activities start between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. and usually end by 2:00 p.m. Crews are instructed to be aware of and limit disturbance to the community during early hours.

"Safety is a core value for both METRO and HRT," explained Douglas Reehl, HRT project director. "We firmly believe that every accident is preventable. A safe workplace is our goal and we strive constantly to find new strategies to meet it."

The heat index is tracked daily, Reehl says, and precautions are taken, but work halts when the index reaches 105. In addition to earlier work hours, each crew has an extended break time and shaded pop-up tents and tables with water coolers, sports drinks and access to ice. HRT trucks also make daily deliveries of fresh oranges and popsicles to crews to maintain hydration.

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