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Monday, October 12, 2015

Tom Horton's essay on clean buses







I am voicing the concern of many operators regarding the unresolved workplace safety, and the public environmental safety of our transit vehicles. We operators have long-standing concerns about the lack of relatively sanitary work surfaces and passenger environment surfaces on board all TriMet vehicles. 

We know how dirt, dust, road grime, molds, mildew, and human waste byproducts get recirculated every evening by an outdated and obsolete vehicle cleaning process which does not actually sanitize surfaces or even attempt to produce regularly sanitary conditions.  We see the build-up of this toxic crud on every surface, every day, and it is particularly evident on fan blades which force this contaminated air directly into our faces through defrosters and overhead HVAC fans.  We know this build-up is seldom if ever cleaned from cracks, crevasses, conduits, and compartments hidden from our view.  We know that our vehicles become safe-havens for all manner of germs, bacteria's, viruses, and insect infestations. 

AC condenser pan drain plugs frequently clog up causing stale, stagnant, mildew and mold laden air to back up into the passenger cabin, rapidly fogging up all windows, obstructing the operators vision, and resulting in the sickening smell of a dirty men’s locker room.  These molds and mildews irritate the respiratory systems of every person inside the vehicle, operator and passenger alike, and subject some to dangerous medical reactions.

We know that steam cleaning happens so rarely on a per vehicle basis that it is relatively inconsequential compared to the tens of thousands of passengers carried between steam cleanings.  While passengers have limited exposure, we are compelled to perform in this station without respite for many hours at a time, daily, weekly, and yearly.  We know that many operators, including myself, suffer the ill-health-related effects of this cleaning process that is devoid of daily sanitization.  We believe these unsanitary work environments are a source of unnecessary increases in employee time losses due to respiratory illnesses, asthma, and allergies.  We believe we have the rolling, public transit equivalent of Sick-Building Syndrome.

Furthermore, in today’s climate of public concern surrounding outbreaks of infectious diseases including MERS, SARS, Norovirus, Pneumococcus, Measles, and Whooping Cough, to name a few mentioned in the news media lately, we believe the district must be compelled to act on its overriding consideration for public safety, if not merely in the interest of its employee’s wellbeing. 


We would like the Safety Committee to pursue a policy and procedural update requiring every public transit vehicle be restored to a relatively sanitary state after every single day’s revenue service. 

This might be accomplished largely by improvements to cleaner/shagger procedures, but serious consideration should be given to retrofitting and/or replacing obsolete vacuums and wash rack equipment.  The industrial application of Oxygen3 or Ozone as a sanitizing catalyst might be employed as a replacement to the high-pressure air hose at the beginning of the current process.  Or, as a final sanitizing step during a stationary wash rack where the bus is parked inside as the shagger, equipped with a filtered mask and high-pressure ozone applicator sanitizes the inside of the vehicle while the machine washes the outside.  Obviously some expert advice from a bus/train vacuum manufacturer, physical scientist or chemical specialist would be helpful with this.

Another relatively simple procedure that might be added to this process would be to have the shagger take a large, shaggy mitten soaked in a bucket of disinfecting solution into each hand, then walk the entire length of the interior of each vehicle, manually swabbing down every stanchion, handle bar, window lever, door handle, seat back, fare box, steering wheel, radio handset, P/A microphone, and every other surface which might have conceivably been touched by infectious contamination.

Side-facing and back row seating mounted over wheel wells and engine cowling naturally accumulate garbage, and worse, biohazardous waste such as drug addicts syringes, used condoms, soiled diapers and sanitary napkins.  These seats must be lifted and swept clean on a daily basis. 

Interior window glass cleaning needs to be made a much higher, even daily priority, with particular attention to front door and driver’s side windows and the vehicle’s windshield.  The daily accumulation of soot and grime on these windows presents a considerable and unnecessary vision barrier, as well as a public statement of service excellence (or lack thereof) on the part of the entire transit system.

There are details and improvements that are too numerous to recall, but one more item addressing a possible solution to this public health and workplace safety issue needs to be seriously addressed.  That is the ongoing service and maintenance of HVAC HEPA filters.  While this matter is largely out-of-sight/out-of-mind for our riding public, we know that these filters are not being changed out per the manufacturers recommended intervals.  We have photographic evidence that most of these critical health-guarding filters are left to clog up and become totally ineffective, thus allowing airborne pathogens to pass around the sides and in back of these used-up filters, then contaminating the ventilation ducts and ultimately getting blown right into the operator’s face. 

My inquiries found that manufactures generally recommend these filters be changed out around every 100,000 miles.  While that may seem appropriate for the average private motor vehicle usage, it is totally inadequate for public transit safety.  When I asked a mechanic how often a bus odometer turns over 100,000 miles he told me, “Oh, that’s easy, they’ll do that in about a week.”  It is not possible, or cost effective for every HEPPA filter in every TriMet vehicle to be replaced every week.

May I then suggest the Safety Committee recommend the district put to work some of it federal capital improvement grant money to develop an electrostatic HVAC filtration system.  Invent an easily accessible, stainless, electronic filter medium to replace the dirty old paper HEPPA filters.  When the steel filter is in place it is electrostatically charged to filter the HVAC, heater core, and defrost air before it is passed into the ventilation ducts.  Then, at the end of every revenue service day, this stainless filter element is easily removed, placed in a dishwasher-type machine designed to reverse the magnetic charge of these metal filters while washing the contaminants away.  A small supply of supernumerary metal filters, freshly washed, is supplied to each wash rack for rotation into the next vehicle.  I think this is an idea worth the Safety Committee’s consideration, as well as those above I have proposed.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Tom Horton, Op, 174
Powell Transportation

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