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Protecting traffic policemen from the hazards of pollution

By Maxwell Pereira

On May 3, the Delhi Traffic Police joined hands with the NGO 'Better Breathers Club of India' (BBCI) to observe 'World Asthma Day' (WAD) and embarked on a continual programme of check-ups, diagnosis and treatment for traffic policemen with likely respiratory and other ailments contracted while performing duty at high-pollution traffic junctions.

Of the 150 million asthma afflicted people worldwide, India accounts for nearly 50 million- "A Nation of Bad Lungs", as a national daily put it. Genetic factors do influence the incidence of asthma, but adverse environmental conditions due to pollution also are known to contribute to this growing malady.

Of the three million premature deaths in the world due to outdoor and indoor air pollution, the highest number are assessed to occur in India. The adverse health effects of air pollution depend on the level of exposure, nutritional status , populations structure, genetic susceptibility and personal habits. Greater the exposure burden, including smoking, and poorer the nutritional status, higher the health risks.

The number of vehicles in Delhi has jumped tenfold in the past two decades to reach 35 lakh in 2000. Coupled with high density passenger and goods transportation, these vehicles spewing pollutants into Delhi's environment have given the Capital the dubious distinction of being one of the most polluted cities of the world. Vehicle emissions are estimated to account for 60 to 70 per cent of total air pollution. What makes this pollution worse is that it is generated at the ground or breathing level, affecting the commuter to an extent, but more harmfully the traffic policemen posted at intersections.

A local survey has indicated that the incidence of respiratory diseases in Delhi in 12 times the national average, and that 30 per cent of Delhi's population suffers from respiratory disorders due to air pollution. However , the city's environment has started showing some improvement after the Supreme Court ordered closure, shifting to polluting industries and introduction of CNG- run public transport.

Recognising the gravity of air pollution and its impact on traffic policemen, the Delhi Traffic Police had pioneered three studies in the early '90s. The first, in collaboration with the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), studied the effects of pollution on traffic policemen performing duties at traffic intersections.

The second followed up in association with the Patel Chest Institute of Delhi University with a continual programme till 1997 for diagnosis and treatment of traffic policemen's lungs and other respiratory diseases. Then in the third, the local Majidia Hospital in 1999 volunteered to provide free treatment to traffic policemen affected with such ailments.

All the three studies revealed that traffic policemen working in adverse environmental conditions are affected, both in the short and long run, and their health and efficiency are impacted. Eye irritations, throat infections, respiratory discomfort, skin ailments, impaired hearing, chest diseases, excessive Carboxy haemoglobin, and annoyance with noise are some of the ailments they suffer from.

The CRRI-AIIMS study recommended: Better and special medical care for traffic policemen on active duty; various duty places for them need to e scientifically evaluated for their exposure risks; duty hours at critical points be curtailed; and a case for appropriate hazard allowance to traffic policemen be considered. On the basis of this study, pollution masks were given to traffic police on duty at higher polluted junctions. An awareness programme was also conducted to sensitise them about pollution effects on their health. Simultaneously, a research programme was undertaken at the Patel Chest. Institute to provide free treatment and continually check the health of traffic police. Private hospitals like the Majidia were welcomed policemen, in addition to the facility/cover already available under the Central Government Health Scheme.

Toxic allowance for traffic policemen from the rank of constable to inspector was recommended, but did not find favour with the Fifth Pay Commission. Attempts to press the case are planned. Other measures were also taken. To decrease their exposure to high levels of pollution, a posting policy was evolved on the basis of three categories: Highly congested places in Delhi and New Delhi; places less congested; and outer areas which are least congested. Traffic personnel are constantly rotated in these areas every six months so that they do not remain exposed to pollution for long periods. Similarly, the point of duty within his circle is also changed every fortnight. An additional future is the eco-friendly solar traffic booths installed at traffic intersections in Delhi and New Delhi areas. These booths contain ionisers which suppress the suspended particulate matter and provide a healthy environment for a policeman seated inside.

Following on studies by AIIMS and CRRI and the remedial measures taken by doctors of the Patel Chest Institute in the '90s, the Delhi Traffic Police and a group of physicians of BBCI are to help educate traffic police in better self-management of chest ailments. At a May 3 joint interaction and workshop, policemen were addressed on respiratory system and lung function tests, and given a demonstration on emergency care, first aid etc while on the road. Weekly schedules of lecture/demonstrations have now been envisaged.

The author is Joint Commissioner, Traffic, Delhi Police.

© copyright : Maxwell Pereira

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