Monorail Investigation Deepens

by David Koenig, contributing writer

Ready for OSHA's findings on what really caused the fatal crash of two Walt Disney World monorails on July 5?

Well, mark your calendars for Tuesday January 5, 2010. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is currently in the middle of its investigation and, although the agency hypothetically could release its report any time before the January 5 deadline, don't count on it. By law, OSHA has a maximum of six months to release the report. In all cases involving controversial Disney park fatalities over the last 10 years (in California Adventure's Aladdin theater in 2003, on Disneyland's Big Thunder Railroad in 2003, beneath a Magic Kingdom parade float in 2004, and on Animal Kingdom's Primeval Whirl in 2007), OSHA's report came out exactly six months later—usually to the day.

U.S. Department of Labor southeastern regional director Michael Wald said there's nothing nefarious about the timing; it's just that if they've got more time to put into an important investigation, they're going to use it. "We know we've got the six-month rule," he said.

Unfortunately, OSHA's report may not be as complete—or effective—as we would hope. In the weeks immediately following the crash, investigators were on the scene interviewing everyone involved—in the station, in the trains, in the shop, in management. New questions arose the following month, with the accidental deaths of two more Disney World cast members.

Then, in late September, OSHA interviewers began interviewing other monorail workers who weren't working during the accident, but might be aware of ongoing operational problems that contribute to an unsafe environment. The investigators are, according to one insider, "asking questions about whether you can feel a switch when you drive over it, about the beeps from the console, and whether guests riding in the cab are a distraction. One driver said that she missed having guests up there, but when you get four kids and no adult that it is a distraction. The OSHA person said, 'That should never happen.'"

"The only unfortunate aspect of these interviews," the source added, "is that they are doing them on-stage with [the manager over both monorails and watercraft] and a union representative present. I doubt OSHA is going to get anything meaningful under those circumstances."

Indeed, the source provided personal e-mail messages from one interviewed cast member confirming that she felt uncomfortable sharing monorails' dirty laundry with her boss a few feet away. She wrote, "We haven't learned a thing. We had three trains out yesterday that hadn't been to shop in three days. So much for those nightly safety checks. Management OKed the override of the software that is supposed to prevent that. Given the chance, I would have told [OSHA] everything I could remember…"

Instead, she wrote, "I just answered what they asked."

When it was suggested that she call OSHA herself, anonymously, she responded, "Everyone here is too scared. Management is really riding us"—adding sarcastically—"We might hit a guest with a door."

Later, she added, "I thought about trying to e-mail them, but I was worried about retaliation."

OSHA's Wald said that having a supervisor present during worker interviews is not required. In fact, workers can request their interview—and everything discussed during it—be confidential. Still, I can't imagine a nervous ride operator asking his boss to leave the room. Instead, Wald suggested that any employees who felt uncomfortable sharing in front of their supervisor should call OSHA's area director, Les Grove, at (813) 626-1177. He promised all discussions would be confidential, as mandated by the federal Employee Workplace Rights (PDF link).

Monorail drivers, if you have something to share that might improve safety, please give OSHA a call.

Meanwhile, Over at Disneyland…


Disneyland is enjoying its usual holiday bump in attendance, with one conspicuous twist. "With the Halloween promotion, we have noticed that attendance on Fridays has skyrocketed," said one cast member. "Probably the guests are coming in after work or school to start the weekend. The attendance does not go up until after 3:00 p.m."

Consequently, a resort-wide e-mail went out on Friday, October 2, telling cast members that they could no longer sign themselves in or use their Main Gate Pass on Fridays during October, as well as on Halloween itself (a Saturday), due to the expected high attendance.

The move has irked a number of cast members. "This means more blockout days added to our Main Gate Pass," sighed one employee. "I counted at least 78 blockout days for Disneyland cast members before the Halloween promotion."

"The company is pretty good in taking things away from cast members, but not giving anything in return," grumbled another.

Closed Door Policy

"Old Disney" loved open doors. At shops, restaurants and attractions, an open door welcomes guests inside. Yet ever-tightening health code ordinances have encouraged Disneyland and DCA to go to a closed-door policy at many of their eateries.

"If you notice, restaurants with open eating patios such as French Market, Pizza Port, and Cafe Orleans have their doors closed and cast members standing by to open the doors for guests entering," said one worker. "Blue Bayou will not be affected for now. Coke Corner, Stage Door Cafe, and Royal St Veranda have takeout windows, and have not been affected."

As a compromise, he said, "Construction work [is] going on at the entrance of the Village Haus Restaurant. A new set of doors is being put in; they're electric and open and close automatically. The main entrance for the French Market is also being worked on."

Return to the Grave

As promised in an earlier blog post, Fort Wilderness' cemetery is back, with one more change. "The grass is growing, and the only thing different from the original, besides the headstones facing to the north of the island, is that there is no open grave," pointed out one cast member. "I guess Legal does not want guests having too much fun."