OSHA cites Disney World for multiple safety violations following monorail investigation | TheDailyDisney.com from OrlandoSentinel.com
Federal workplace-safety investigators charged Walt Disney World on Wednesday with multiple violations and proposed $44,000 in fines following a July accident on the resort’s monorail that killed a 21-year-old employee.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Disney for one “serious” safety violation that contributed to the July 5 accident, which occurred as one of Disney’s trains was driving in reverse during a botched track switch and backed into another train, killing driver Austin Wuennenberg of Kissimmee.
The agency said Disney failed to recognize the potential hazards of driving the trains in reverse — noting, for instance, that the resort did not follow a 20-year-old operating guide written by the train’s manufacturer, Bombardier Inc. The guide recommends that, whenever a train is moving in reverse, an observer should be positioned to watch the opposite end. Disney this past weekend began requiring spotters whenever trains are backing up.
OSHA also charged Disney with three separate safety violations that were discovered during the monorail investigation but unrelated to the accident. OSHA cited the resort for exposing workers in the monorail’s maintenance shop to a fall of more than 8 feet without adequate protections, and for not training monorail employees in the use of portable fire extinguishers — both of which OSHA said were repeat violations for Disney World. The agency also cited Disney after discovering a drill press in the monorail-maintenance shop that did not have a safety guard installed.
In addition, OSHA issued a recommendation — though not a safety-violation citation — in connection with its investigation into the death of another Disney worker, Mark Priest, who died after falling during a stage performance in the Magic Kingdom in August.
OSHA said Disney should ensure that employees rehearse on a new stage before their first live performance in the new venue. Priest, 47, was injured after stumbling into a wall during a performance of “Captain Jack’s Pirate Tutorial” in the Magic Kingdom.
“With the monorail, Disney should have put procedures in place that would have prevented the fatal crash from occurring,” OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels said in a prepared statement. “Employers need to take effective and ongoing corrective action to protect the health and safety of their workers. In the case of the actor’s death, OSHA feels that greater familiarity with the new stage might have changed the outcome.”
OSHA is still investigating the death of a third Disney employee this past summer: 30-year-old Anislav Varbanov, who died after breaking his neck while rehearsing for the “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular” in Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park.
Disney has 15 business days to accept or challenge OSHA’s findings in the monorail case.
“We have just received OSHA’s findings and are in the process of reviewing them,” said Greg Hale, chief safety officer and vice president for worldwide safety and accessibility for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “We will address any concerns and next steps directly with OSHA. We have already made several enhancements to the operation of the monorail and will review these findings to determine whether any additional steps are necessary.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the monorail crash; its probe isn’t expected to be complete for about another six months.
Of the $44,000 in fines proposed by OSHA, $35,000 was for the two repeat violations. The agency recommended a $7,000 fine for the violation directly related to the crash.
The crash occurred at about 2 a.m. on July 5 as a Disney train was supposed to be moving off of the resort’s Epcot loop at the end of a work day, a process that requires the train to move in reverse through a track switch and onto a short spur leading to one of the system’s Magic Kingdom loops. But the track switch was not activated that night, so the train wound up reversing back down the Epcot loop instead and colliding with Wuennenberg’s train.
According to people familiar with details of the events, the chain of events leading to the crash began when a worker in the maintenance bay, who was responsible for activating track switches, mistakenly radioed that it was clear for the train to begin backing up and transferring off the Epcot line — even though he had not realigned the track. The role of the monorail’s central coordinator, who directs the entire system by radio, was also in flux that night: An employee had gone home ill, so the job was being handled temporarily by a manager on his dinner break, and no one was at the coordinator’s console, where a display grid would have shown that the track switch had not moved.
OSHA broadly cited Disney because it “did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”
The agency outlined several ways that Disney World could address the safety violation, such as the use of a spotter as recommended by Montreal-based Bombardier. Among other remedies it said would be acceptable: Requiring the coordinator to be at his console at all times; ensuring clear visibility is maintained on monorail windshields; providing a way to use the trains without overriding an automated anti-collision system (which must be overridden during track switches); and providing written instruction, training and exams for the master operator in the monorail’s maintenance shop.
In an interview, Hale said Disney World has made a series of changes since the accident, including several that were suggested in OSHA’s report.
In addition to adopting the spotter requirement this past Sunday, for example, Hale said Disney now requires the central coordinator to remain at his console at all times. That change was made soon after the accident. Hale said workers in the maintenance shop have also been provided with new written training materials detailing train-transfer procedures.
Further, workers on the platforms at Disney monorail stations are now trained to use hand packs that can instantly cut off power to the track in the station — and thus stop a train from entering — in all emergencies. Previously, he said, workers had been trained to use them in more limited situations, such as when a guest wanders too close to the edge of the track.
When a train is being transferred from one monorail track, or “beam,” to another, the central coordinator must now actively verify that the appropriate switches have been realigned by the operator in the maintenance shop. And when the train must pass through the switch in reverse, drivers must now drive from the rear cab.