Autonomous (driverless) vehicles are now a reality, and cities all over the world are beginning to implement this technology in their public transportation departments, according to a March 2019 ResearchAndMarkets.com press release. The health and safety aspect of autonomous vehicles should be foremost in the minds of occupational safety decision makers.
“The use of AI and big data analytics will allow both real-time decision-making as well as post-event analytics,” the press release explains. “Information gathered will be used for fine-tuning vehicle operations as well as mass customization within the automotive industry.”
Public transportation and safety run hand in hand. City buses need to be held to a cleanliness standard, taxis must have seatbelts available for all passengers, rail-fixed trains and train stations need to operate smoothly to protect passengers, and autonomous vehicles must be tested continually to ensure that they are working properly. For those with a bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety, the transportation industry provides numerous employment opportunities.
Safety Issues in Public Transportation are Taken Seriously
Beginning in the mid 1990s, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) helped develop safety and technical standards for public transportation departments across the country. The FTA recommends safe operating practices and maintains the National Public Transportation Safety Plan (NSP) used by all transit authorities that receive federal funds.
Per the FTA’s 2017 “Review and Evaluation of Public Transportation Safety Standards,” the NSP “must include safety performance standards for transit vehicles” and also take into account consensus-based standards and best practices relating to “vehicle crashworthiness, event data recorders, emergency access and egress from rail transit vehicles in distress, and fire-life safety.” All public transportation agencies are strongly encouraged to adopt these performance standards, and most do.
For these standards to be practically employed, public transportation agencies will need professionals with degrees in occupational health and safety. Careers in this field are plentiful both within the transit agencies themselves, inspecting vehicles and ensuring compliance, and at state and federal government levels developing and enforcing safety standards.
The National Academies Press discusses a poignant example of the need for strict safety protocols in 2017’s “Public Transit Emergency Preparedness Against Ebola and Other Infectious Diseases: Legal Issues.” According to the report, “Transit is increasingly becoming the backdrop against which pandemics unfold, making the need for emergency preparedness for IDOs [infectious disease outbreaks] ever more important. IDOs, including SARS, MERS, H1N1, and even the seasonal flu, provide opportunities to identify areas in which public health and transit can work together to ensure transit’s readiness for IDOs.”
The public transportation field will need health and safety professionals to effectively handle IDOs and countless other health risks associated with public transit.
Public Transportation Safety Improves Each Year
The mere existence of public transit options in heavily populated cities keeps many people safe from traffic-related fatalities such as motor vehicle collisions, drunk drivers, and other dangers to individually driven vehicles. Trains and buses are larger and generally safer than privately owned automobiles and the drivers/engineers are, on average, safer drivers held to higher standards.
Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the FTA back up the safety claim.
“Researchers found that metro areas where residents average more than 40 bus or train trips a year have about half the traffic fatality rates of metro areas where residents average fewer than 20 trips annually,” according to “Public Transportation is 10 Times Safer, Analysis Shows” in Safety and Health Magazine.
The article goes on to explain that a city’s investment in public transportation can make residents safer. Those who use public transportation in general are about 10 times safer than those who travel alone and those who travel by commuter railways are as much as 18 times safer.
Such studies help to spur progress and, in this case, progress means further investments in public transportation. In turn, more public transportation means additional responsibilities for health and safety professionals who devise and implement public transit safety standards and conduct inspections.
Wherever large numbers of people gather, be it on a train or bus, new health and safety obstacles can present themselves. Predictive analytics, AI devices and algorithms, and machine learning technology are leading health and safety experts to hugely beneficial insights that might never have come to light before the advent of Big Data.
“Most predictive models are created using machine learning, which can account for the complex relationships among variables that no human could ever program,” Jessica Shields writes in “Predictive Analytics: A Powerful New Tool” on the Industrial Safety and Hygiene News website. “They can also automatically adapt and improve themselves through feedback from their use, which supports the constantly evolving nature of your EHSQ [environmental, health, safety, and quality] programs.”
So, as with most modern industries, advancements in data science are yielding significant advantages in the realm of public transportation health and safety. Occupational safety professionals should prepare themselves to understand the principles of safety and health management and current methods of analyzing safety systems.
Eastern Kentucky University’s Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety Program
Eastern Kentucky University’s online bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety program is designed to teach students how to identify and analyze potential workplace hazards, infractions, and risks. Public transit is just one of many industries with a perpetual need for health and safety professionals.
Industry-experienced safety professionals guide students through environmental health and safety classes, covering modern trends in employee engagement and the establishment of a safety culture in the workplace. For more information, contact EKU today.
$172.3 Bn Autonomous Vehicle Market – Associated Press
Review and Evaluation of Public Transportation Safety Standards – Transit.dot.gov
Public Transit Emergency Preparedness Against Ebola – NAP.edu (free registration required)
Public Transportation is 10 Times Safer, Analysis Shows – Safety and Health Magazine
Predictive Analytics: A Powerful New Tool – ISHN.com