It’s a jungle out thereWritten by Michelle Morra 18 November 2008
In a tender moment depicted on a TV commercial, a young man
who has had too much to drink humbly hands over his car keys to a concerned
friend. The camera lingers as the friend places a caring hand on party boy’s
Meanwhile, in other not-so-tender moments across Canada, thousands of commuters jangle their keys on their way out of the office to face an hour of complicated, congested traffic at the end of a long workday, many, many hours after this morning’s 5:30 wake-up. If they’ve been alert for more than 12 hours they will be driving as though impaired by alcohol, says Brian Patterson, President and General Manager of the Ontario Safety League.
“Your reflexes for hitting the brakes, hitting the gas, checking your mirrors and being aware of what’s around you, all of that will become impaired. So if you’re in your 16th hour and heading onto the 401, let’s hope that 16th hour is in the quiet driving and you’re not trying to do that between 5:30 and 7:30 through congested traffic.”
For the average Canadian commuter, driving can be as much as 25% of their workday. We practically live in cars and make ourselves too much at home in them.
“Because drivers see the long commute as such a demanding task on their time, they will often introduce a series of distracting behaviour, says Raynald Marchand of the Canada Safety Council. “They’ll shave, eat, put on makeup, review the blackberry, make phone calls, all things that distract from the primary task of driving, which at rush hour is very demanding. This results in collisions.”
According to statistics from Transport Canada, in 2006 there were 634,424 reported traffic collisions in Canada. Of those, 142,280 caused injuries, and a further 2,606 were fatal. Road-related deaths happen around-the-clock, on highways, city streets and country roads.
This not only costs the healthcare system -- in Alberta alone, $115 million in healthcare costs were due to motor vehicle collisions in 2002 – but employers are realizing it costs them handsomely as well. Statistics from Canadian workers' compensation boards show that in 2001, motor vehicle collisions accounted for 31 per cent of all traumatic injury fatalities as well as 10,000 time loss injuries.
Even if a collision happens on the drive to or from work rather than on duty, it costs the employer. “If you’re injured in a crash, you could be about six weeks off work plus modified work for up to 24 weeks,” says Patterson. “The impact of an almost 30-week crash, for some employers that’s equivalent to having to adjust for maternity leave.”
And since Bill C-45 employers are paying much closer attention because a worker’s reckless driving could get the company in legal trouble if a collision were deemed work-related.
Taking responsibility for oh&s, employers keep track of exactly how qualified workers are to operate forklifts and debrillators, and other machines, with refresher training at least every couple of years. If they don’t evaluate employees’ driving, however, they don’t know what skills might have been lost – or bad habits developed – since the employee’s first and only driver test, years or even decades ago.
That’s why an increasing number of companies have driver safety awareness campaigns that often include a driver evaluation. For a small fee, Patterson says, companies can also find out if their employees are legally allowed to drive.
“If I drive your company van and my license is under suspension, you’re not insured. That may come as a surprise to you after I’ve ripped the side off it on the guardrail.” A company of 1,700 drivers once hired the OSL to check if their employees’ licenses were valid. Forty-seven of those employees, as it turned out, were suspended from driving.
(Next: What employers can do)