THE All India Loco Running Staff Association has written to the minister of railways, Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu on the reigning hot summer in our country and its adverse effect on the safety, health and work place environment of the loco pilots of Indian railway. According to the reports of the meteorological department, an increase of about 2 degrees to 6 degrees centigrade above normal in atmospheric temperature has been recorded in our country during this summer season compared to the past and it is anticipated that the condition would prevail until the arrival of normal monsoon. In addition to this, possibility of heat wave has also been predicted in some parts. This situation has seriously affected the day to day life of the common man especially the workers of our country. Scarcity of drinking water has also become a major problem in many parts.
Newspaper reports say that more than 200 people have died in our country due to soaring heat. In Andhra Pradesh (46) and Telangana (66) lost their life during this summer season. States like Telangana recorded temperature of 47 degree centigrade, Odissa - 43, Jharkhand- 42to 45, UP- 42 etc. In states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and also in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala there is unprecedented increase in temperature.
In order to safeguard the life and health of the people, the central government and the state governments have taken precautionary steps like restricting the school timings, restructured the working hours of the construction workers, agricultural workers and others who work outdoor so that they are not made to work between 11.00 am to 3 pm when the temperature is so high. Even though such being the reality of the situation, the railway administration seems to be totally detached and indifferent to the problem faced by the railway employees especially those who work in the open line. The railway administration has so far not taken any steps to protect the workers from the difficulties they face due to the hot summer. Loco running staff is one of the categories who bear the brunt of the inaction on the part of the administration. The complaints and grievances of the staff in this regard are ignored and are forced to work without any apparent opposition or protest due to the pain of consequent punitive actions. Thus the administration is exploiting the health and strength of the loco running staff with impunity.
Loco running staff are one of the vital categories in Indian Railways who are directly and closely involved in the safe and punctual running of trains more than anybody else. Their job demand is tremendous and they are required to perform their duty in an impeccable manner with no margin of error. Even the minor lapses and human errors on their part are meted with severe punishments. These issues have been identified by the various safety committees and the expert bodies including the railway administration but except being rhetoric and making lip service, the railway administration has not taken any concrete and durable steps to improve the working condition of the staff. Not only just and humane condition of work is not provided to the loco running staff but also whatever meagre is available, it is being denied through systematic disservice. This has put the health of the loco running staff as well as the safety of the train operation under unwarranted risk.
Some of the difficulties the staff face while working especially pertaining to the unjust and inhumane working conditions in the loco cab which tend to adversely affect their health and the ability to discharge their duties in an efficient and safe manner are mentioned below.
The working condition in the loco is so adverse to the extent of causing untold discomfort to the crew. The workers are experiencing unprecedentedly hot summer and rise in temperature. In fact the thermometer reading does not reflect the real heat felt by the human body. The felt temperature or the heat index, as indicated by the meteorological department, after taking the relative humidity into account is at least 5 to 6 degree centigrade above the recorded temperature. This matter has been widely acknowledged by all and steps have been taken to protect the workers, especially who work outdoors, from the related health hazards and other risks by ensuring the thermal comfort.
Unfortunately nothing is being done by the railway administration to ease the working condition of the employees who work under this severe condition, at least in the case of the loco running staff. For the loco running staff the situation is even more precarious due to the unjust and inhumane conditions existing in the loco cabs, running room etc which further adds to the heat index value and the resultant discomfort.
The unjust condition of the loco cab badly affects the thermal comfort and the overall performance of loco pilots. The loco cab and the crew are directly exposed to sunlight resulting in high radiant heat gain. The metal locomotive body gets heated due to exposure to sunlight and transfers heat to aggravate the condition. Wider look out glasses and too much window area expose cab to direct sunlight, the high solar factor due to the inferior type of glass used etc increases the heat. Lack of proper solar blinds or curtains make things worse. Green house gas effect build up also makes the interior uncomfortably hot. Due to the low ceiling, the heat is transferred from the warm ceiling. The constricted space in the cab and lack of air circulation, no cab ventilation make things worse.
The fans provided are a mockery. It is ridiculously small, delivers insufficient air, air flow is focused only to limited parts of the body (less sweep area), is poorly designed and sited. It conducts hot air and adds to the temperature. High perspiration due to the material of the seat cover used and other factors along with the decreased rate of evaporation further increases the heat effect. Thermal stratification created due to the vertical air temperature difference felt at head and feet is also an adverse factor. Dust laden and impure air gets inside the cab.
This is in addition to the long existing distressful condition in the cab like: excessively high noise pollution level in the cab due to poor design and lack of proper maintenance; the crew are subjected to excessively high vibration level due to lack of vibration control arrangements; window and other components rattle owing to indifferent maintenance and the loose fittings; owing to the rudimentary and most hostile and fixed seating arrangements, let alone the scientific temperament, even the minimum basic things are disregarded while providing the seats. Except for providing the back rest, leave its utility, no improvement has been made to the seats in the diesel/AC locos since its introduction into the Indian railways; rusted loco body and fittings along with the loathsome and de-motivating appearance of the cab environment; general un-ergonomic design and condition of the cab.
Pointed out above is the general condition of the locos. In fact in majority of the locos the condition is even more degenerating and distressful especially in WDP, WAP, WAG, WAM, WAP1 type locos which are widely being used for working trains in Indian railways. All this adverse working conditions create cascading and long lasting bad effects on the health of the crew and on the ability to discharge their duties with the infallibility expected of them.
PATHETIC AND RETROGRADE
CONDITION OF THE RUNNING ROOMS
Another issue of concern is the lack of quality rest the loco running staff suffer due to the pathetic condition of the running rooms which makes them vulnerable to safety errors. The loco pilots get only a meagre and measured rest between two spells of duties and working trains without taking proper rest would not only be a health hazard to the staff but also assumes greater dimension by putting the life of the passengers and rail safety at peril.
The importance of the quality rest for the loco pilots and its relation to the maintenance of safety in train operation is well established and endorsed by the various safety committees including the high power committee. The recommendations given by these committees are being overlooked by the administration to the disadvantage of the staff and in disservice to the interest of the safety. Due to the hot summer, the condition has become further worse and the loco pilots are made to suffer untold miseries. They are forced to work without taking proper rest by stretching themselves beyond the just and healthy limits which is undesirable for rail safety.
It is a fact that the discomfort caused by hot condition, unlike cold, affects mental ability before physical one and results in losing dexterity, intellectual function, concentration and alertness. The relation between high temperature and unsafe action is also a concern.
Moreover forcing the loco running staff to work under such unjust and inhumane conditions is also against the declared “National Policy on Safety, Health and Environment at Workplace”.
The following suggestions in this regard were made:
1. Provide air conditioning systems in the locomotive cabs and running rooms on urgent basis
2. Improve the general condition of the locomotive cab and running room according to the recommendations of the high power committee
3. As a temporary measure of relief, modify the crew link, taking into consideration the harsh condition prevailing during this summer season, similar to that of the temporary monsoon links by reducing working hours, restricting night duty hours, increasing rest between two spells of duties etc
4. Provide bottled drinking water en-route to the crew of the running trains