Report on worker's death cites lax Alyeska safety procedures

Posted: Wednesday, November 22, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The government agency that regulates the trans-Alaska pipeline has criticized maintenance and work procedures at the Valdez tanker port before a fatal truck accident in August.

Jerry Barnes, 51, of Valdez died Aug. 16 when the gravel truck, weighing 30 tons, rolled off a steep road above the oil port and over a cliff. He was hauling fill for a parking lot expansion at the terminal's emergency response building.

Last month, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which runs the port, said its investigators found that brakes five of the truck's six wheels weren't working. Also, the road was closed to heavy equipment such as the truck, but there were no warning signs.

The Joint Pipeline Office, the state and federal regulators that oversee Alyeska, investigated the accident. Its report Tuesday faulted company policies that allowed Barnes to drive the truck even though his commercial driver's license had expired, along with lax maintenance procedures.

The report found mechanics did not inspect brakes on the manufacturer's suggested schedule. In addition, the vehicle-maintenance shop did a poor job tracking which vehicles needed repairs, the report said. Also, drivers did not inspect trucks after use, as required by state law.

JPO safety inspector Ray Elleven noted that Barnes' commercial driver's license expired in 1997. Barnes was an operations technician. His job was involved in moving oil, not maintenance or construction. But Elleven said such workers commonly do other work such as plowing snow or, in Barnes' case, helping expand a parking lot near the port.

Elleven said it is common for workers to drive trucks and other heavy vehicles without licenses on Alyeska property.

Elleven said that mechanics at the shop are properly trained and follow some maintenance schedules. In the case of the dump trucks, they followed schedules recommended by Kenworth, the company that built the truck. However, the company that manufactured the brakes recommends checking the brakes every three months, and mechanics did not follow that schedule.

He also faulted how problems are reported. When using equipment on Alyeska property, drivers do not file maintenance reports. ''The last person to use that truck may have known those brakes weren't right, but never reported it. Then Jerry Barnes -- unfortunately -- ends up dead,'' Elleven said.

Finally, the report criticizes Alyeska for sloppy control of maintenance at the Valdez repair shop. Trucks that need repair and trucks ready for work are parked together. All have keys in the ignition and workers may take trucks without knowing they need fixing, Elleven said.

The Joint Pipeline Office ordered Alyeska to:

-- Prevent use of heavy equipment that needs repair.

-- Prevent unqualified drivers from using heavy equipment.

-- Document all heavy equipment drivers.

Alyeska is owned by six major oil companies, including BP, Phillips and Exxon, and runs the pipeline and port for them.

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