Cal-OSHA Files Citation Against AC Transit

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday August 14, 2008 - 08:51:00 AM

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) has filed a citation and notification of penalty against the Alameda–Contra Costa Transit District, charging that the district is not adequately providing bus drivers with protection from heat-related illness, including not providing access to sufficient water. 

AC Transit is challenging the Cal-OSHA citation, and an appeal hearing before a Cal-OSHA administrative judge in the state building in Oakland has been continued to September. 

The Cal-OSHA citation noted that only 20 percent of AC Transit buses are supplied with air conditioning, a situation that bus drivers call a significant problem particularly in the summer months on routes running through southern Alameda County. In addition, while drivers may drink water while the buses are stopped, AC Transit rules do not allow drinking while the buses are in motion. 

AC Transit is currently considering adding air conditioning to some of the new buses being purchased for operation in the district. 

The Cal-OSHA citation, filed by department Industrial Hygienist Garrett Brown, resulted from a complaint made to the state agency by driver Robert Stranahan and a series of inspections by Brown between August and November of last year. 

Some 50 AC Transit drivers showed up to the first appeal hearing session in early July to support Stranahan’s case. 

Under one state statute noted in the Cal-OSHA citation, employers are required to provide at least one quart of water per hour for employees. In another, employers are required to provide access to shade for “employees suffering from heat illness or believing a preventative recovery period is needed.” 

AC Transit Manager of Media Affairs Clarence Johnson said that the district is in part “appealing Cal-OSHA interpretation that AC Transit is covered under state regulations that require employers to provide adequate shade for employees. We believe that is exclusively written for people who work outdoors.” 

Johnson also said that “any illness on duty—including heat-related illness—is treated the same. The drivers can stop the bus and notify dispatch that they are unable to continue, and a replacement driver is immediately sent out. Under these circumstances, drivers are allowed to go out on sick leave until they recover. They are not forced to drive.” 

“We do recognize that heat is a concern” for both drivers and passengers, Johnson said, adding that the district “is putting together several ideas to make drivers and passengers more comfortable.” 

Representatives of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, which represents AC Transit drivers, could not be reached for comment for this story. 

If the Cal-OSHA hearing officer upholds the citation, penalties for AC Transit would be minimal, resulting in a total penalty of $2,015.