The National Academies

TCRP F-26 [Active]

Improving the Health and Safety of Transit Workers with Corresponding Impacts on the Bottom Line

  Project Data
Funds: $250,000
Staff Responsibility: Lawrence D. Goldstein
Research Agency: Econometrica, Inc.
Principal Investigator: Frankie Clogston, Ph.D.
Effective Date: 11/16/2017
Completion Date: 5/14/2019


Research has documented that transit workers experience significant health problems in large part as a result of the physical demands of vehicle operation, work environment, work schedules, the sedentary nature of some jobs, and general constraints on healthy behavior.   The results can affect the bottom line of transit agency budgets through increased absenteeism, early retirement, health care costs, and difficulty in attracting and retaining new employees.  Inadequate access to, or problems with, fragmented health care may exacerbate these problems. 

From a health management perspective, conditions often progress undetected and may not be routinely monitored.  These broader health issues can also affect the transit professionals’ well-being and their ability to sustain required professional credentials.  In addition, these problems may impede their safe performance of essential job functions.    

Loss of well-trained employees, absenteeism, worker's compensation claims, health care costs, and risk management expenses are just a few of the adverse outcomes that can translate into transit agency as well as individual and societal costs.  Improving the health and safety of the transit workforce and keeping quality employees on the job longer promises to be a source of cost savings.


The objectives of this research are to

1.    Define and quantify the health and safety issues facing public transit workers. These include, but are not limited to, behaviors that affect health and safety (sleep, exercise, diet, smoking, seat belt use, alcohol use), chronic diseases (diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, hearing loss), communicable diseases, labor environment, organizational issues (safety climate, organizational programs, policies and procedures, support at work), organization of work (shiftwork, job discretion, job demands), and access to health-promoting activities and healthcare;

2.    Using existing information resources, estimate the costs associated with employee health issues; and characterize to the degree possible how these costs are distributed to individuals, transit agencies, and society;

3.    Identify and describe scalable and sustainable strategies successfully implemented in transit agencies; and

4.    Identify and evaluate potential methods for measuring cost-benefits and cost-effectiveness of these programs to individuals, transit agencies, and society.

In meeting these objectives, the research will identify ways to improve employee health outcomes resulting from work conditions and broader health promotion practices.  Building on existing research and available resources in this field, the products of this research will include proposed procedural strategies to help transit agencies implement and monitor programs and policies, and tools to measure resulting cost savings and other benefits.

Note: Techniques for quantifying rates of and costs associated with transit employee illnesses, physical impairments, injuries, and other health-related concerns should rely on available national and state databases, industry health fund information, and actuarial data. 


In response to the stated objectives, the research plan addresses the following tasks: 

1.   Identify the scope and scale of transit worker health issues and related safety concerns.

a.    What are the health issues and what factors contribute to those issues? 

b.    How are these health issues and contributing factors identified, either currently or potentially, and what metrics are used to measure their impact on transit employee service?

c.    What costs are associated with these issues?

d.    How is the financial burden distributed among individuals, transit agencies, and society at large?

2.   Identify and describe current approaches and possible solutions to specific health and safety problems affecting transit employees.

a.    What are the existing approaches?

b.    Where and how are they used?

c.    What resources are involved?

d.    What is the impact on health and related safety issues (for example, vehicle accidents)?

e.    What methods are you proposing to gather this information? 

3.   Identify tools and techniques for measuring program costs, benefits, and effectiveness.

a.    Who benefits and who pays?

b.    What are the costs and how are they measured?

c.    What are the benefits and how are they measured?

d.    What is effectiveness and how is it measured?

4.   Identify transit agency requirements—opportunities and constraints, both internal and external—for implementing potential solutions and tools.

a.    What barriers exist to implementing the study products?

b.    What steps are proposed to lessen or overcome these barriers?

c.    What incentives exist for using study products?

d.    What tools and techniques are available to support allocation of funds and implementation of necessary improvements?

e.    What are the next steps building on this research?

The research plan is divided into two phases, and each phase is divided into tasks with a detailed description of the work proposed.  The research plan builds in appropriate interim deliverables that include, at a minimum, a detailed annotated outline of the resources forming the basis of the research, and an interim report at the end of Phase I that describes work done in early tasks and provides an updated work plan for the remaining tasks to be accomplished in Phase II.  Phase I will encompass approximately 30% to 50% of the overall scope of work and will address the initial and fundamental tasks contributing to the overall study outcome.  The TCRP panel will meet with the research team at the end of Phase I to review and approve the interim report prior to moving on to Phase II. 

Final deliverables will include at a minimum: (1) the products specified above (metrics, tools, strategies); (2) a final report that documents the entire research effort; (3) an executive summary as a stand-alone document that outlines the research findings and recommendations; and (4) a presentation (e.g., a Microsoft® PowerPoint, video, etc.) aimed at decision makers that simply and concisely explains why the application of the final deliverables is helpful and how it will be used.  Final deliverables will also include a stand-alone technical memorandum entitled, “Implementation of Research Findings and Products.” 

The research plan incorporates appropriate checkpoints with the TCRP project panel including, at a minimum, (1) a kick-off teleconference meeting to be held within 1 month of the contract’s execution date; (2) the face-to-face interim deliverable review meeting to be held at the end of Phase I; and (3) at least two additional web-enabled teleconferences tied to TCRP panel review and approval of any other interim deliverables as deemed appropriate.

Status: Research is now underway.  An Interim Meeting was held in December, 2018.

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