196563 No Empowerment Without Education: A Rail Worker's Hazmat Toolbox

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Yvonne Hayes, BA , National Labor College, United Transportation Union, Silver Spring, MD
From the moment they first set foot on the ballast, railroaders are told that they are “empowered” to make decisions, to take the safe course. Responsible for the transport of some of the deadliest chemicals on the planet, their training rarely exceeds minimum federal standards and does not prepare them to act properly in an emergency. Adequate training enables workers to exercise their “empowerment” and save lives – not only of those on the trains, but also those in nearby communities.

This paper reports on surveys of participants in the National Labor College (NLC) Rail Worker Hazmat Training Program, which confirm that railroad hazmat training programs are inadequate to prepare most workers for their potential role as first responders to a hazmat incident and that their increased awareness following the NLC training had led to behavioral changes on the job. They favor adoption of more extensive training for all workers.

Given the difficulty of obtaining carrier “buy-in” to programs that require workers to spend an entire day in the classroom, the author proposes a curriculum similar to that of the 8-hour NLC rail worker first responder course, but presented in 21 “mini-modules” that would be deliverable during the 15-20 minute safety briefing period at the beginning of rail workers' shifts. The program would fill a vacuum in current employer programs and provide the grounding that railroad personnel need to be genuinely “empowered” in their decision-making with regard to both the routine tasks as well as the unexpected.

Learning Objectives:
Describe the research work of students at the National Labor College in the field of occupational safety and health Assess ways that activist research can improve the safety and health of workers Discuss strategies for combining academic research and activist work in occupational safety and health

Keywords: Occupational Health, Training

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a peer trainer with federally-funded Hazmat programs
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.