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MELBOURNE'S first fleet of low-floor trams are so poorly designed they pose an unacceptable risk to public safety and must be modified, a WorkSafe investigation has found.
Yarra Trams' fleet of 36 Citadis trams, which run only on route 109 from Port Melbourne to Box Hill, have rear-vision cameras that are almost useless in some conditions, with drivers unable to see cars on the road behind them, or whether passengers have safely got on and off the tram.
Tram drivers have also suffered repetitive strain injuries from driving Citadis trams, because they rock heavily from side to side. The Rail, Tram and Bus Union has recorded 19 cases of workplace injuries that have reduced employees' ability to work since the trams arrived in Melbourne in 2001.
The union has accused Yarra Trams of ignoring the camera safety problem for almost a year, with WorkSafe's order to fix the cameras coming 11 months after a staff health and safety representative first officially alerted the company to the design defect.
The officer issued Yarra Trams four deadline extensions between July 2011 and May this year, with WorkSafe finally ruling last month that Yarra Trams had broken occupational health and safety laws.
''We don't want to wait for somebody to get killed and say we should have done something. That's the danger,'' said Phil Altieri, the union's tram and bus division secretary.
WorkSafe inspector Mark Lucas stated in his report last month that the trams' unresolved design faults were ''placing employees and other persons (customers) at risk of a potential serious injury'' either through a crash between a tram and a vehicle on the road, or through a driver's failure to see pedestrians and passengers' movements at tram stops.
The report listed several potential measures to fix the problem, including prohibiting the operation of the entire Citadis fleet.
A tram driver told The Age drivers feared a crash was only a matter of time, particularly at a notorious black spot on the corner of Barkers Road and High Street in Kew.
''You're basically turning blind, you've just got to hope the sound of the horn is loud and intimidating enough, and you've got to be ready to brake if some dill races you around the corner,'' the driver said.
A spokesman for Yarra Trams said the company had tried several cameras and was still searching for a model that would work in all conditions. He said the doors were fitted with sensitive edges that stopped trams moving if somebody got caught.
The spokesman said the company had also changed the hand controller on the Citadis trams to reduce hand and wrist injuries, and would offer drivers better lower back support.
Yarra Trams commissioned an independent ergonomic report on Citadis trams, which was completed two months ago, but is yet to tell staff of its findings.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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