Prevention of Roadway Deaths Focus of NIOSH Report

Dec. 10, 2003
There are practical measures employers, employees and others can take to prevent work-related roadway deaths, says the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in a new report.

"NIOSH Hazard Review: Work-Related Roadway Crashes Challenges and Opportunities for Prevention" provides in-depth data, analysis and recommendations for preventing the leading cause of job-related fatalities. Employee deaths in roadway crashes increased by 18.7 percent from 1992 to 2000, totaling 11,952 over the 9-year period.

Any employees who operate company-owned vehicles whether for short-term journeys or long-haul trips, or employees who drive personal vehicles on the job are at risk. NIOSH recommends these preventive measures to save lives:

Employers should:

  • Enforce mandatory on-the-job use of seat belts,
  • Ensure that employees who drive on the job have valid licenses,
  • Incorporate fatigue management into safety programs,
  • Provide fleet vehicles that offer the highest possible levels of occupant protection in the event of a crash,
  • Ensure that employees receive necessary training to operate specialized vehicles,
  • Offer periodic vision screening and general physicals for employees whose primary job duty is driving,
  • Avoid requiring workers to drive irregular hours or significantly extended hours,
  • Establish schedules that allow drivers to obey speed limits,
  • Set policies in accordance with states' graduated driver's licensing laws and child labor laws, and
  • Assign driving-related tasks to younger employees incrementally.

Employees should:

  • Use safety belts,
  • Avoid using cell phones while driving, and
  • Avoid other potentially distracting activities such as eating, drinking or adjusting non-critical vehicle controls while driving.

Transportation planners and traffic engineers should:

  • Consider reducing the number of places where vehicles can enter onto or exit from state highways and U.S. highways, thus minimizing the number of situations in which large trucks and local passenger vehicles entering the stream of traffic may collide,
  • Recommend wider use of shoulder rumble strips to alert drivers that they are leaving the roadway, and
  • Plan road construction projects so that traffic is isolated from construction activity whenever possible.

The new Hazard Review, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2003-119, is available at NIOSH also is partnering with the World Health Organization (WHO) and others to prevent roadway fatalities and injuries. On April 7, 2004, WHO will sponsor "World Health Day 2004: Road Safety," which will mark the beginning of a 1-year global road safety campaign.

In addition, NIOSH is part of an alliance with OSHA and the Roadway Work Zone Safety and Health Coalition. The Roadway Work Zone Safety and Health Coalition members icnlude NIOSH, the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) and the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE).

"The alliance reflects NIOSH's belief that everybody wins when partners collaborate in setting and achieving strong workplace health and safety goals," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D.

OSHA Administrator John Henshaw said the alliance will bolster OSHA's efforts to protect the health and safety of workers in roadway work zones. "Together, we create the synergy to focus more effectively on work zone safety and health issues on a national level and develop innovative solutions for reducing injuries and fatalities," he added.

The coalition hailed the Alliance as "an avenue to help us focus on 'value-added' results value-added in terms of safe, healthy, productive employees. The goal is to ensure that roadway workers return safe and healthy to their families at the end of each workday."

NIOSH, OSHA and other members of the Roadway Work Zone Safety and Health Coalition plan to develop hazard awareness training and education programs on roadway work zone safety targeted to Spanish-speaking and "hard-to-reach" highway construction workers. Coalition members and their affiliates are encouraged to participate in OSHA's cooperative programs such as compliance assistance, the Voluntary Protection Programs, Consultation and its Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program. In addition, coalition members will be encouraged to build relationships with OSHA's regional and area offices to address work zone safety and health issues.

The groups plan to disseminate information and case studies that illustrate the business and social value for reducing work zone injuries and fatalities. Additionally, the members will share research findings with the construction industry so that the interventions and best practices described in training and outreach activities are based upon best-available scientific data.

Each year, more than 100 employees are killed and more than 20,000 are injured in the highway and street construction industry.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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