Jaipur: More than 3,000 railway employees expose themselves to severe health risks when they blow into breathalysers to mark their attendance.
The pipe into which they blow is fixed and never cleaned as a result, the employees – loco pilots, their assistants and guards – insulate their mouth with palms or cover the pipe with a handkerchief to minimise risk of infection.
The employees are repulsed by thought that the pipe they are putting their mouth to may have been used by so many others before them. The risk of contracting oral infections is nauseating but loco pilots say they cannot avoid it.
In order to check drunken drivers and guards on duty, the railways introduced breathalysers in the attendance system but did not consider about the health risk.
Loco pilots, assistant loco pilots and guards have to blow into the machine with their palm on the scanner and eyes towards an iris reader to mark attendance before embarking on a journey and after completing it.
In Indian Railway’s north-western zone, there are 2,200 loco pilots, assistant loco pilots, and more than 1,000 guards. There are 17 crew changing stations in the four divisions in the railway zone – Jaipur, Bikaner, Ajmer and Jodhpur.
At Jaipur railway station, Jai Narain, a guard, uses a pink contraption that is provided to the staff once every month to be used on the breathalyser pipe, to blow into the machine.
Most employees forget to carry it with them into the crew lobbies where the machines are installed, says Ramesh Kumar a loco pilot.
Vivek Rawat, senior railway divisional commercial manager at Jaipur, however, plays down the health risk. “We provide them with a contraption to be used on breathalyser pipe before blowing into it,” he says.
“Every month, new contraptions are issued to them.”
A loco running staff association demands disposal units be placed near the breathalysers. “Often the employees forget to carry the contraption provided by the railways,” says Dharmendra Saini, zonal secretary of All-India Loco Running Staff Association.
“Plastic straws used with aerated drinks and packaged juices can be used to insulate employees against infections,” he says.
Saini further says that during H1N1 outbreak in 2016, drinking straws were cut into halves and given to staff to use before blowing into breathalysers. “It can be a cheap alternative to the contraption,” he says.
Dr Ajit Singh Shakhtawat, additional medical superintendent at the Sawai Man Singh Hospital says there is risk of infection on blowing into the same pipe by different people.
“Infection due to mouth droplet can cause allergy rhinitis, viral, pneumonia, tuberculosis, pharyngitis, bronchitis among others,” he says.
“Transmission of bacteria from mouth can cause teeth related problems.”