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Report highlights motor vehicle crash risk for workers

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 260-8519
July 27, 1998

Workers are more likely to die from traffic-related motor vehicle crashes than from any other hazard on the job, including workplace violence and machine-related injuries, but employers and others can take practical steps to reduce the risk, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found in a report issued today. NIOSH is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Three workers are killed every day — more than a thousand each year — while driving, riding in, or working around motor vehicles in traffic, according to the report. Highest risks are seen in the trucking service and construction industries. By occupation, the largest number of vehicle deaths occur among truck drivers.

“Vehicular safety is as important on the job as off,” said Acting CDC Director Claire V. Broome, M.D., M.P.H., “By taking some basic and effective precautions now, employers can save lives and reduce costs while research progresses for further improvements. We know from other NIOSH studies that motor vehicle incidents are among the leading causes of death for adolescents on the job, and in 38 states such incidents are the leading cause of occupational injury death for all workers.”

NIOSH recommends that businesses assess their past experience with motor vehicle safety to identify appropriate measures for preventing traffic-related death and injury among their employees. In general, effective steps may include:

  • Establishing and enforcing a written policy requiring drivers and passengers always to use seat belts.
  • Providing a seat belt for the driver and each passenger in each employer-provided vehicle, and limiting the number of passengers to the number of seat belts.
  • Conducting driver’s license background checks on prospective employee drivers before they are hired.
  • Ensuring that drivers comply with designated speed limits, and prohibiting workers from driving on the job when they are fatigued.
  • Ensuring that employees in construction and maintenance zones wear high-visibility clothing and use appropriate barriers and traffic control.
  • Training drivers in safe driving practices and proper use of vehicle safety features.
  • Establishing written procedures for proper maintenance of vehicles.
  • Equipping new vehicles with appropriate occupant protection such as seat belts, and where feasible and appropriate, with other safety features such as anti-lock brakes.
  • Considering the adoption of U.S. Department of Transportation regulations for commercial motor carriers as part of the company’s vehicle safety program.

“Seat belts, driver training, and similar precautions have become integral to public safety, saving thousands of lives every year,” Broome noted. “With appropriate adjustments to recognize the ways in which driving on the job differs from the ownership and operation of a personal vehicle, such measures can provide the foundation for similar advancements in occupational safety.”

“NIOSH developed its new report with input from business, labor, the Department of Transportation, and others, and we look forward to further collaboration with these diverse groups to disseminate our findings and recommendations,” said NIOSH Director Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H. “We also hope that the report will stimulate further research still needed to identify risk factors more precisely, and to assess the effectiveness of safety measures. Traumatic injury and special populations at risk are among the priority areas for such research under the National Occupational Research Agenda.”

In an analysis of data for 1990-92, NIOSH found that the industries with the highest average annual rates of death per 100,000 workers from traffic-related motor vehicle crashes were trucking (12.1 deaths per 100,000 workers), logging (9 deaths per 100,000 workers), fuel dealers (5.6 deaths per 100,000 workers), petroleum products (5.2 deaths per 100,000 workers), and agriculture crop production (4.2 deaths per 100,000 workers). Occupations with the highest annual average fatality rates per 100,000 workers were truck driver (12.2 deaths per 100,000 workers), garbage collector (11.5 deaths per 100,000 workers), sheriff/bailiff (7.1 deaths per 100,000 workers), farm worker supervisor (5.2 deaths per 100,000 workers), and surveying and mapping technician (5.1 deaths per 100,000 workers).

The NIOSH analysis also found that workers fatally injured in vehicle crashes were mostly male (93 percent); most were aged 25 to 54 (70 percent); most were drivers ( 76 percent) as opposed to pedestrians or vehicle passengers; most were not using any type of safety restraint (62 percent); and most of the drivers showed zero blood alcohol concentration (87 percent).

Copies of the report, “NIOSH Alert: Preventing Worker Injuries and Deaths from Traffic-Related Motor Vehicle Crashes,” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 98-142, are available from the NIOSH toll-free information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674). Copies also will be available shortly on the NIOSH Home Page, . Further information on NIOSH research is also available from the toll-free number and on the home page.