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It’s a jungle out there

By Michelle Morra

According to statistics from Transport Canada, in 2006 there were634,424 reported traffic collisions in Canada. Of those, 142,280 causedinjuries, and a further 2,606 were fatal. Road-related deaths happenaround-the-clock, on highways, city streets and country roads.

In a tender moment depicted on a TV commercial, a young manwho has had too much to drink humbly hands over his car keys to a concernedfriend. The camera lingers as the friend places a caring hand on party boy’sshoulder.

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) 



Provide driver training.
The Ontario Safety League helped countless people brush up on their driving skills, including hard rock miners, aging nuns, taxi drivers, Meals on Wheels volunteers, and summer students who drive municipal vehicles. “We’ve had companies cut their crash rate by 35%, based on drivers being more aware, more alert to what they’re doing,” says Patterson. He adds that if a company with 500 drivers reduced its crash rate by 35%, it might reduce its insurance premium by as much as 25%.

For companies that already have a strong safety culture, it tends to percolate through to road safety on and off the job. A mining company with offices in remote parts of the world invested in proactive driver training for every employee, every employee’s spouse, and every employee’s children of driving age under 25. The HR manager explained to Patterson, “If I’ve got a guy in the deepest jungle of Peru and his wife is involved in a simple crash in a parking lot, his mind won’t be on the job, it will be back home. So I’m going to fly him back. What additional cost is it for us to tune up the driving skills of not just our employees, but their families?”

Be aware of people’s commutes. Bearing in mind that a fatigued driver behaves much like a drunk driver, it helps to find out who has a tough commute. “If you have an employee who’s working a 12-hour shift and ends up doing 14 hours, you may not know if they have 1.5 hours drive at the end of that round or if they started at 5:00 a.m.” Adjusting the shift to avoid peak traffic times, or letting employees work from home at least once or twice a week, can help.

Offer flexible work hours. Long-distance or congested drives make it difficult to predict an arrival time. Think of the salesperson with four meetings a day, all over town. And think of your 9-to-5 commuters. “We find people are driving in the most complicated traffic at times when they are either sleep deprived or they’re focused on arrival time,” says Patterson. “If you’re late one more time and you’re going to lose your job, you might take incredible risks in the morning. Maybe half a second off, you’ve got a crash.”

That, he adds, is why Dominos and other pizza franchises have discontinued their “30 minutes or free” guarantee – in response to a number of significant crashes involving their vehicles rushing to arrive on time.

Evaluate people’s driving. A driver’s bad habits were once considered personal quirks, but since Bill C-45, employers need to know who the speeders and tailgaters are. Just as you want proof of a worker’s ability to operate other machinery, consider doing the same for your fleet drivers or on-the-road sales force. You can have their driving evaluated by an instructor, or put your drivers through a simulation. Patterson says that in one test group, the 10% who crashed badly in the simulator crashed within 18 months of the simulator test.

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Get them off the road. [/span]Find out if there are groups of employees within the same postal code, and consider offering an incentive for those who find an alternative to the car commute. Transport Canada has partnered with several Ontario municipalities to create SmarCommute, a program that helps employers and commuters to explore other choices such as carpooling, teleworking, transit, cycling, walking, or flexible hours. With an ever-growing number of vehicles on the road, this could not only improve safety but ease traffic congestion and pollution.

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