This study will explore the short term and long-term health effects of railroad personnel working on locomotive not equipped with air conditioners during the summer months. An attempt will be made to tie the temperature on these locomotives to various heat related illnesses that people become exposed to after working in unusually hot conditions. This researcher intends on gathering factual data to support the position that this is a very serious problem. This study will focus more on the scientific element of the situation as well as the human element of the problem.
The primary purpose of this study is to show the major railroad carriers in the United States the importance and potential health risk associated with allowing employees to operate freight and passenger trains without air conditioners on the engine. The study will also attempt to get the public involved by making them aware of the potential dangers they face by having employees operate these trains under these adverse conditions. People drive on railroad tracks quite often as well as those that live in neighborhoods with tracks near by.
There are locomotives at the present time that are equipped with air conditioners.
The problem is that there are no guidelines in place that call for the allocation of these locomotives to be used as the lead unit during the summer months. For example one train may have six engines and five out of the six engines have a working air conditioner on them. The crew only sits on the first engine or the lead unit, the rest of the engines are there to pull the load. The one engine that is positioned in the lead may be the one that does not have a working air conditioner. Also, while one engine consist may have these type of example there may be another consist with the same number of engines and none of them are equipped with air conditioners. Studies have been conducted by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, which indicated that cab temperatures were over 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher 88 percent of the time. (Haas, 2001, Paragraph 2)
The topic that I have chosen for my research study is the effect of railroad personnel working on locomotives without air conditioners. My goal was to locate articles and studies that illustrate not only the conditions on a locomotive under these circumstances but also what those in the medical field have to add about heat exhaustion and heat related illnesses. The material that I have gathered succeeds in both categories.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) conducted a three-year study into the temperatures inside a locomotive cab. The purpose of this study was to have hard facts concerning the subject rather then railroad personnel simply going to the carrier with a complaint of how hot it was on the cab. It is vital for my project to have some field data to support my claim of exactly how hot it can actually get. I also needed data that was not taken from the same locomotive in the same region. This was a nationwide survey so it really gives validity to my assertion that there are serious risks involved with this process. The data showed that 88 percent of the locomotives tested showed temperatures of at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit. 100 degrees Fahrenheit was indicated five percent of the time on average. This study gives my research topic strong legs to stand on instead of simply stating these locomotives are hot sometimes.
I also needed information that could get the public involved. Those that don’t feel that the problem truly affects them or anyone they know personally do not take the information seriously. Therefore, I had to present some information to show that this problem is something that can have an impact on public safety and not just the health of a couple of railroad workers. What I want to avoid is perhaps a lawmaker or railroad carrier reading this proposal and having the feeling that the working conditions are just a part of the job. By tying it to public safety, it gives the topic more prudence. Early symptoms of heat exhaustion range from dizziness and possibly fatigue but can get serious symptoms including poor decision-making and irrational behavior. (Barrow, 1998, p. 751) When a crew is taking a train with hazardous materials even a short distance they need to be aware of their surroundings at all times. The heat factor impairs both judgment and reaction times. (Barrow, 1998, p. 753) These two sources along with the interviews I will conduct will railroad personnel will help my research proposal in giving it a strong leg to stand on.
By doing the research for this topic and interviewing those employees that work on these engines I hope to answer two important questions, what impact does working under these conditions have on the employee’s ability to make quick decisions? Is there any health risks that may affect the employee both in the near and long term future?
This project will utilize scientific research that will compare how various levels of heat exhaustion affect the decision-making abilities of people. I will also illustrate using field test the extreme difference between actual temperature and the temperature at the same time inside of various locomotives that are not equipped with air conditioning. This research will also show the dramatic difference that locomotives with air conditioners have on the internal temperatures of these cabs. Railroad personnel will also be interviewed and survey to get their feelings of how their bodies react to these extreme conditions. I will design the questionnaire myself observing the various requirements for establishing a fair and concise survey questionnaire. The questions will follow a logical pattern to get the employee’s opinion of whether or not the heat problem affects them in a negative way. The survey will consist of ten questions that will require short answers with the choices being strongly agreed to strongly disagree and areas in the middle of these two parameters. I will study only those employees with Union Pacific railroad. As the major class one railroad in the United States their reaction to a problem like this could spread to some of the smaller railroads. I will study fifty employees that will be a sample to obtain a feel for the situation on these engines. I will find the subjects while they are at work actually on the engines, right before, or right after work. This study will take a couple of weeks to complete the research and tabulate the results. Once the findings are tabulated there will be conclusive evidence that this problem is a serious threat to the company, the public, and most of all the employees.
I plan to use the survey and measurement methods to conduct this research. I will survey a sample of employees that work on these locomotives in the summer months to get their opinion and personal experiences dealing with this problem. In order to add validity to the research I will also use measurement to see exactly how hot it can get on the inside of a locomotive during a warm day. The measurement survey is needed so the research from the survey does not seem like employees simply wanted another luxury. The research needs both methods to show the human and factual side to the problem. I will measure the temperature on three different areas of the locomotive. I will measure waist high where the engineer is seated, waist high where the conductor is seated, and in the center of the cab. I will use a thermometer set to record degrees in Fahrenheit. My survey will categorize the answers to the ten questions under whether or not the respondents answered strongly agree to strongly disagree and chart the results along with each question. I will then show the percentages that agreed with the various questions related to the heat on the engines and what should b e done about it.
In my research proposal data collection will be a key tool in proving my case. The human element in showing the importance of putting air conditioners on locomotives is the difference between my proposal being looked over and my proposal being actually read and given serious consideration.
My study design will be a questionnaire that employees that operate locomotives will be asked to fill out and return to me. I will solicit respondents for this survey at the on duty locations for train crews. This is a good spot because often crews have a lot of down time in the beginning of their shift because their train is not ready to depart or perhaps their train that they have been call to take has not arrived to Houston for the crew change yet. The design of the study is find out how the employees feel when they are working on these locomotives without air conditioners and how they feel when they make the same run with a set of engines equipped with a cooling system.
I plan to give the questionnaire to the employees and ask them to fill out the survey on their own and return it to me. I will approach each employee on an individual basis and ask him or her if they have time to complete a short survey that may help all of us in bringing attention to this problem. I will not require any of the employees to put their names on the survey because I feel that this will be the best way to solicit an honest response. I will structure the survey so that it takes no more then 5-10 minutes to fill out which gives me enough time to move around to other crews in the room and touch bases with as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time.
The population for this survey will consist of blue-collar workers with a large age variance. I could survey people from 21-65 years of age. Both genders will be included and the racial background of the population will vary across the board. Everyone will fit either in the middle class to upper middle class category. Income will range from $50,000-$90,000 per respondent and their total household income could vary more if they are married and if their spouse is gainfully employed as well. The vast majority of these people will not have a college education but all will have finished high school as their highest level of education. This sample will be a random sample of these employees mentioned. There will not be any attempt to get a certain number of people based on age, race, or gender but instead more of a first come first surveyed type of procedure. I plan on using a sample of 100 respondents but I don’t want to limit myself if the opportunity presents itself to get more respondents. The flow of people in and out of a crew room will vary by day and time so I should have no problem with getting the sample number completed. I will count on the honor system to ensure that I do not have any duplicate respondents. Since I will conduct this survey on different days there is a chance that I could run into the same people that have already done the survey. I am confident that most of the people I will remember and the other people will remind me that they have already completed the survey.
One important independent variable could be the status of the crew. If I go to this location and I find a lot of train crews that are preparing to leave versus to coming in to work then the chances of getting a lot of survey done may drop slightly. Also if for whatever reason when I go to complete the surveys there are a lot of trains that are on time and ready to go that could decrease the time that the crews have before actually getting on the trains which could impact how many participants I would have. I don’t have any relevant dependent variable at this time.
My findings as a result of this research will give Union Pacific a clear understanding of how grave of a problem this really is. I expect that the findings will show that in comparison to the outside temperatures for any of the days that I have performed my tests, the temperature inside one of these engines will be fifteen to thirty degrees hotter. I think this will also improve profitability because in the summer months there are a lot of train crews that will ignore some of the work in order to get off these engines and into a cooler environment faster. I have done very informal interviews with train crews as well as done the same thing in order to get out of the heat. During these conversations with crews the question has come up as to why they did not make a scheduled pick up of cars or delivery of cars and the response is often related to the heat inside of the cab and trying to get off the train as fast as possible. Employees will more relaxed on the engine and this will improve employees morale because the field employees will have a sense that the company is doing something positive to help the work environment. The history of the railroad industry indicates that most of the improvements in regards to the quality of life issues for railroad employees have come from legal mandates and not on the company level.
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