San Francisco lawmakers are poised to dig deeper into safety concerns inside the city’s $72 million street-cleaning program after the board’s president called for a government hearing on Tuesday to address the issue.
"I'm asking for a Public Works safety hearing on their street-cleaning truck operations," said Board President Norman Yee, who delivered those remarks at the weekly board meeting. "[The hearing] is an opportunity for the department to present their safety improvement plans in response to the NBC Bay Area Investigative report."
Yee’s call for action comes in the wake of an NBC Bay Area undercover investigation that revealed city vehicles are frequently overloaded with trash during routine trips across town to the city dump.
The NBC Bay Area investigation also exposed safety violations and unsafe practices inside Public Works, including a lack of straps, tarps, and ropes on street-cleaning vehicles that should be utilized to prevent cargo from falling onto the roadway, according to state safety laws.
Ignoring such regulations can put workers and residents at risk of injury. Falling debris from vehicles results in 50,658 crashes, 9,805 injuries, and 125 deaths each year, according to a 2016 study by AAA.
Following the NBC Bay Area report, state investigators with Cal/OSHA announced the results of its own safety probe and cited Public Works after finding the city’s street-cleaning program “failed to establish and implement effective methods or procedures to correct the unsafe condition of overloading…street cleaning trucks.”
The state’s findings reflected what the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit exposed just days earlier. The state citation also noted other safety violations, including clogged drains near a truck washing area, which forced some workers to wade through “standing water with floating used syringes and other unsafe debris.”
Public Works and it's ballooning multi-million dollar street-cleaning budget has been the subject of more than a dozen NBC Bay Area reports over the past year, including investigations surrounding questionable government contracts and allegations of mismanagement.
Public Works has until early March to appeal the citation or pay the $1,200 fine. The department has yet to commit on its next steps with Cal/OSHA, according to Public Works spokesperson Rachel Gordon.
“That decision has not yet been made,” Gordon wrote in an email.
“We are still meeting with them.”