- A 45-year-old salesperson was killed in a motor vehicle crash while traveling to meet with clients.
- A 26-year-old emergency medical technician died when the ambulance she was in was struck head-on by a pickup truck traveling more than 70 miles per hour in the wrong lane of a two-lane road.
- A 42-year-old construction foreman lost his life as his company truck plowed into a slower-moving petroleum tanker.
- A 21-year-old highway worker died after a dump truck loaded with asphalt backed over him during a nighttime paving operation.
These are only a few examples of lives lost due to motor vehicle crashes at work. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of work-related death in the United States. Risk of work-related motor vehicle crashes cuts across all industries and occupations. Workers who drive on the job may be “professional” drivers whose primary job is to transport freight or passengers. Many other workers spend a substantial part of the work day driving a vehicle owned or leased by their employer, or a personal vehicle.
This week is Drive Safely Work Week. The event, sponsored by Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS), an employer-led public/private partnership of which NIOSH is a member, reminds us all to practice and promote safe driving for all workers and their families.
If we look at the data, this is a problem that cannot be ignored. Thirty-five percent of occupational fatalities reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are associated with motor vehicle crashes. Between 2003 and 2010, on average:
- 1,275 workers died each year in crashes on public highways.
- 311 workers died each year in crashes that occurred off the highway or on industrial premises.
- 338 pedestrian workers died each year as a result of being struck by a motor vehicle.
Over the same period, workers incurred nearly 400,000 lost-workday injuries due to these incidents. Crash-related fatalities and serious injuries have a devastating impact on workers and their families, and on the economic health and productivity of American businesses.
How do we keep workers safe?
In the United States, companies and drivers that operate large trucks and buses are covered by comprehensive safety regulations. In contrast, there are no Federal occupational safety regulations that cover the workers who use smaller employer-provided vehicles or personal vehicles.
For all workers who drive on the job, employer safety policies are a critical element in reducing crash risks. Employers should support and reinforce state traffic laws, but this alone does not adequately protect against the risks of crashes and injuries. For example, not all states have made failure to use a safety belt a primary offense, and few have banned the use of handheld cell phones. Many employers choose to manage road risk more proactively through comprehensive policies and programs to promote safe driving behaviors, ensure that work-related driving takes place under the safest possible conditions, and ensure that worker vehicles are safe and properly maintained. For specific steps employers can take to protect their employees and their companies see Work-Related Roadway Crashes: Prevention Strategies for Employers.
We would like to hear from you. What steps has your company taken to make workplace driving safer?
Stephanie Pratt, PhD
Dr. Pratt is Coordinator of the NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety, and is based in the NIOSH Division of Safety Research.
For more information see the following NIOSH resources:
The NIOSH Motor Vehicle Safety Topic Page