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From The Visiting Fireman News, Vol. 1, No. 19, Pages 3-6, September 25, 1967.

Probably the most massive construction job in the history of the United States aimed at building a modern rapid transit system is under way and it is Fireman's Fund American's job to make it safe.

Three counties of the San Francisco Bay Area, fed up with the mounting traffic congestion that caused a hardening of the concrete arteries, decided to do something about the problem. Voters approved a billion dollar Bar Area Rapid Transit (BART) System

When completed in 1971 it will be one of the best rapid transit systems in the world.

The monumental job of insuring this vast project went to Fireman's Fund American and another firm. Fireman's Fund American is the underwriter of both Workmen's Compensation and Liability and a leading participant in property coverages of BART. Part of the job of the insurer of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system is to make it one of the safest in construction history.

Preventing accidents on construction totaling 50 million man hours is an almost overwhelming job. Heading the crack accident prevention team is FFA Engineer Bob Vergie, Project Safety Director.

Construction "under the gun" is nothing new to Vergie, who as a Major in the Second World War, helped build bomber air-fields, many times under Japanese fire. During his 21-years with the company, Vergie was a safety engineer on such massive construction jobs as the Oroville Dam project.

"It's a tough way to look at it," said Vergie, "but a grim-statistical average is that one man is killed for every million man hours on a construction job. On the Oroville Dam, we lost 11 men killed during 10 million man hours of work."

Vergie said the rapid transit job shows a much better safety record. "So far we lost one man, a pile buck who was electrocuted on the Diablo Test Track. We have already completed 5 million man hours, but we still are not happy - we would like a perfect record."

But no matter how hard Vergie and his engineers try, there will still be accidents because construction is one of the most dangerous jobs in the nation. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a construction worker will average only 17 years work time before suffering a disabling injury.

Vergie and his assistants, in their relentless fight for safety, are constantly inspecting jobs to see that all men wear hard hats, work shoes, and shatterproof goggles, if needed. Vergie has the authority to shut down a job if the contractor refuses to comply with his orders. "So far we have had excellent cooperation," noted Vergie.

Assisting Vergie is Bill Osborne, a tough veteran of many years of mining engineering, with over a decade of experience with the company. Stan Draper of the Argonaut Insurance Company, the co-insurer with FFA on the BART project, is the third member of the safety team.

Down 90 feet under the San Francisco Bay, it is almost an unreal world. Going with Vergie and Osborne on their daily rounds, this writer walked out three-quarters of a mile under the bay to the end of the trans-bay tube, the longest of its kind in the world.

When rapid transit trains whisk along at 80 mph, they will travel through the four-mile tube from San Francisco to Oakland. The tube will be built in 57 separate steel and concrete sections. Eight have already been lowered into position and connected together in a dredged trench near the Oakland shoreline. (The photo on page 3 shows one of these sections) The rest of the sections will be lowered at a rate of approximately one every two weeks until mid-1969. Two large round chambers will house separate one-way transit tracts of the future system.

Walking down these oval chambers, deep under the bay, is a strange feeling. A vapor mist, looking like a supernatural fog, floats through the chambers. The putrid smell of dead fish is everywhere. According to one contractor, workers have complained about these conditionsŠbut the work goes on.

Besides inspecting the jobs almost daily, Vergie's unit attends all joint safety planning meetings with contractors. He also sets up "pre-planning" meetings, to anticipate accidents before they happen. "We have to watch out for cutting through high pressure gas and water pipes," he said.

On the beginning of next month, BART construction workers will begin the most dangerous stage of construction: Compressed air work.

Compressed air construction for the subway tunnel under Market Street will subject over 1,200 men to the danger of the "bends," similar to the hazards faced by deep sea divers.

As the funnel progresses from Market to Bernal Heights, pressurized air up to 30 pounds per square inch, equivalent to pressure 90 feet under water, will be forced into compartments to make the digging less complicated.

This pressurized air will hold back dirt and water at the head of the tunnel, but at the same time, the higher pressures will increase the danger of fire and the possibility of "bends" in workers.

Almost like leaving a diving bell for a decompression chamber, BART workers will have to enter the "man-lock" at the entrance to the tunnel to readjust to normal atmospheric pressure.

If they are not fully decompressed, their actions on the street will be barely distinguishable from those of an intoxicated person - staggering, blurred vision, cramps. Unlike a drunk, the BART worker would need emergency medical attention to prevent disablement.

"This will be the largest compressed air job in history," said Vergie, "and we will be able to make the first comprehensive study of the problem."

Fireman's Fund American, concerned with the safety of BART construction workers, recently held an orientation meeting to inform fire departments, police, state safety agencies, labor and management of the unique hazards of compressed air work.

Foremost authorities in BART's compressed air medical program spoke to 150 persons attending the half-day session at the Home Office's new auditorium.

Speakers at the conference were: Arthur P. Chase, engineering consultant; Albert Behnke, M.D., medical consultant; Charles E. Cooper, M.D., medical director; and Thomas Laskowski, safety and claims supervisor of Transit Insurance Administrators.

Under the direction of Dr. Behnke, a veteran of the United States Navy, is the modern medical facility to diminish the frequency and severity of "decompression sickness" sometimes experienced in compressed air work.

Besides saving lives, BART officials also discovered that safety pays.

A good safety record during 1964 and 1965 in the construction operations has resulted in a savings of $138,135 in dividends on Workmen's Compensation insurance. The cost of on-the-job accidents during the period, on which the dividend was based, was approximately one third less than the average for construction projects throughout the state.

The safety program which was responsible for the successful accident experience began before BART construction started, with complex teamwork and planning by BART, Transit Insurance Administrators, Parsons, Brinckerhoff-Tudor-Bechtel, state agencies, contractors, subcontractors, unions and management with Fireman's Fund American and Argonaut safety experts.

Woodward Melone, Vice President-Marketing, presented the $138,135 dividend check to Adrian J. Falk, president of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District during a recent ceremony.

"This represents only a small fraction of what we hope will be the result of continued safe operations," Melone said. "It means much more toward the preservation of life and limb and efficient operation than is represented by this check."

Melone cited the good planning and engineering by BART and Parsons, Brinckerhoff-Tudor-Bechtel; consulting engineers on the job; the management of the safety program by Transit Insurance Administrators; and the cooperation of the contractors and workers and the State Departments of Industrial Safety and Labor in producing the BART safety record to date.

In 1971 rapid transit trains will take commuters from downtown Oakland to downtown San Francisco in eight minutes - a trip that used to take 30-minutes by private automobile. Employees of Fireman's Fund American will be able to have great satisfaction when this dramatic venture is completed, knowing that their Company played an important part of it.

[Fireman's Fund Archives: 4-1-3-5-28; 1334]


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