The fleet of buses stands idle at Public Transportation Board headquarters. *Photo by James Whittaker
The fleet of buses stands idle at Public Transportation Board headquarters. *Photo by James Whittaker

FRIDAY, AUGUST 19: Transport bosses failed to follow their own accident procedures in the aftermath of the bus crash that sparked this week’s strike.

A Health and Safety report by Government, seen by the Bermuda Sun, cites ‘management’s slow response’ to the accident as a key contributor to the ‘spiral of events’ that led to drivers downing tools on Wednesday.

The report is also critical of the Bermuda Industrial Union’s advice to the driver not to take a drug and alcohol test in the wake of the accident. The report centres on the events that followed the June 24 incident in which a blind female tourist needed hospital treatment after her hand was pinned between two buses.

And it recommends retraining on accident procedure for both managers and drivers before any disciplinary action is taken.

The key findings include:

• Sacked bus driver Jennifer Harvey was not asked to take a drug test until three days after the accident;

• She has since indicated she is willing to take a drug test but has been advised not to do so by the union;

• No-one from PTB management attended the scene of the accident — despite clear guidelines indicating that is the proper procedure;

• Neither drivers or managers were clear on the proper procedure following an accident;

• Management breached health and safety regulations in its slow response to the accident;

• Errors were made on all sides in the aftermath and both drivers and managers need to be retrained on accident investigation.

The report concludes: “The investigation has identified weaknesses in the administration of and compliance with accident protocols and the Substance Abuse Policy.

“The weaknesses are attributed to the fact that those interviewed and who serve in supervision/management positions are not clear on the protocols.

“It is strongly recommended by this office that before management leans to serve ‘unpaid’ disciplinary notices as it relates to the Substance Abuse Programme on its employees, The DPT Safety and Health Committee commit to retrain both management and staff in accident investigation.”

The report, prepared by Georgette Prime-Goodwin for the Safety and Health Co-ordinator’s office was forwarded to Assistant Cabinet Secretary Judith Hall-Bean on August 8 — just over a week before the driver was sacked.

The union believes it provides support for their argument that the driver should not have been fired.

BIU president Chris Furbert said yesterday: “The process was not followed from day one. No action should be taken until the policy is clarified.”

He said mistakes were made on all sides and that Ms Harvey should be reinstated with no loss of pay and benefits.

“We have had a report which says things could have been done better on both sides.

“We can chalk it up to a bad experience, put the sister back to work and move on.”

Handbrake

His comments came as Bermudians rallied round to beat the strike with hundreds of motorists offering rides to stranded commuters and tourists.

Mr Furbert apologized for the inconvenience of the strike. But he said the union had to protect the rights of its members.

The stand-off follows a series of mistakes and failures to follow proper accident procedure in the wake of the June 24 incident, the report indicates.

It highlights the driver Jennifer Harvey’s failure to apply the handbrake as the likely cause of the accident.

Her bus, which was pulled into a layby after experiencing mechanical problems enroute to Dockyard, is said to have ‘rolled’ as passengers transferred to a replacement bus.

The explanation for the accident is based on interviews with witnesses. But the report states that there was no police report or photographs to provide corroborating evidence.

Ms Harvey was first asked to take a drug test three days after the accident, the report says.

It is understood that she was told by her union shop steward not to take the test because it was more than 24 hours after the accident.

The investigation report — based on 14 witness statements — also indicates that transport managers falsely told Ms Harvey they had informed her shop steward of the request to take the test.

The document also suggests that Ms Harvey, who was criticized by transport bosses for
leaving the scene, was told by police at the scene to continue to Dockyard, where she ended her shift and called in sick.

The report further highlights four key contributing factors to the impasse.

• The driver’s error in not deploying the handbrake;

• The union shop steward’s “unsighted view and understanding of the Substance Abuse Policy”;

• The BIU’s advice to the driver not to take the test;

• Management’s slow response to the actual incident.

There is no mention of what type of drug test should be taken.

But the report highlights the fact that Ms Harvey failed to turn up for a total of four tests and any test at this stage would be designed to satisfy the requirements of policy and “not expected to determine drug or alcohol levels on June 24”.

The driver was initially disciplined, suspended and docked pay for “failing to report an accident” and “refusal to take a drug test”.

But union chiefs said yesterday she had done nothing wrong.

Union organizer Louis Somner pointed to phone records and witness testimony in the health and safety report suggesting she did report the accident and only left the scene after being told to do so by police.

He added that it was the shop stewards’ decision that she should not take subsequent drug tests because management had refused to confirm that she would have her pay reimbursed in full.

He added: “She’s done nothing wrong from start to finish.

“She’s never refused to take a test from day one.

“The shop steward has refused on her behalf because the request breaches the drug and alcohol policy established between the Department of Public Transportation and the BIU which categorically states that the test has to be done on the same day as the incident and hair follicles is not a part of the policy.

“If there is to be any type of change it can’t be done unilaterally.”

 

Special report: Bus strike