Commuting accidents

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Simo Salminen, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health


Introduction

Commuting refers to the trip from home to the workplace or from the workplace back home. Accidents that occur during these trips are called commuting accidents. In the first part of this article, the risk factors related to commuting accidents are described based on European studies. In the second part, the means to prevent commuting accidents will be discussed.


Definition

The term “commutation” (latin: "commutatio, a changing") is generally described as "a passing from one state to another" [1]. Nowadays commuting refers to the trip from home to the workplace or from the workplace back home. Commuting accidents are excluded from the definition of "accidents at work" used by Eurostat (ESAW) [2]. However, in many countries, the Workers' compensation system covers also commuting accidents.

In the European Union, there are about 215 million working people. If one estimates that they all work 230 days per year, this would mean about 50 000 million commuting trips every year in the European Union [3]. That accounts for slightly over one quarter of all passenger journeys made in the entire European Union [4]. According to the fifth European Survey of Working Conditions 13,5% of European workers spent more than an hour commuting time each day, 30,9% between half an hour and 1 hour and 55,5% less than 30 minutes [5].

In France commuting caused one out of five occupational accidents. The fatality rate in commuting accidents was 4.7% in 2003-2006 [6]. The time used for the commuting trip was found to be the factor which influenced the risk level [7] - the risk was greater during rush hours when the majority of workers are travelling on the road compared to less busy times of day. However, in a study among Italian factory workers, the length of the commuting trip was not related to the number of accidents at work [8].

According to the European Transport Safety Council: "A total of 39,000 people lost their lives in road traffic collisions in 2008, of those a large percentage were driving for work or to work whilst commuting.[9]"

Risk factors for commuting accidents

The following chapter will try to provide an overview of the most typical risk factors involved in commuting accidents in Europe.

Gender

Women are a risk group with respect to commuting accidents, for example in a study carried out in Finland their commuting accident frequency was found to be 1.4 times higher than that of men [10]. The frequency of commuting accidents has been shown to increase with age, especially for women. Women over 50 years of age have a 2.5 times higher frequency of suffering a commuting accident than men in the same age group [11]. However, men suffer fatal crashes more often than women [12].

Females living alone have been shown to have an increased risk of commuting accidents in the study conducted by the French national electricity and gas enterprise [13]. In addition, married people have a lower risk of suffering a commuting accident than other groups in Sweden [14].

Over 30 days of sick leave absence from work doubled the risk of commuting accidents among female workers and an uncomfortable position at work was associated with commuting accidents in the French study on electricity and gas workers [15].

Age

The age of the commuter influences the likelihood of having a commuting accident. For example, in France the highest number of commuting accidents (not weighted against employment) occurred in the age category between 25-34 years of age[16], whereas in Germany workers younger than 25 years of age suffered the highest injury rate[17]. When one concentrates on fatal accidents, workers over 55 years of age suffered the highest numbers of accidents[18].

Profession

It has been shown in several European studies that the commuting accident density varies from one profession to another. In the French study, women working in health and community service professions had a three times higher risk of being in a commuting accident than those in other professions, whereas male sales reps had a 6-fold higher risk to suffer a road crash while commuting [19]. In a study on German chemical industry workers, apprentices were found to have an increased rate of commuting accidents[20]. Electrical workers, engineering and structural metal workers and leisure time guidance workers had the highest incidence of commuting accidents among Finnish municipal workers[21]. Miners, craftsmen and service workers had a 91 per cent higher risk of suffering a commuting accident than others in Sweden[22].

Vehicle

In Sweden, two-wheelers such as motorcycles were the most dangerous vehicles for commuting trips. Cars and pedestrians had almost the same risk level, whereas public transportation was the safest vehicle for commuters. With public transportation, the most dangerous part of the trip was the walk to the stop or station [23], [24].

Cars were involved in 62% of commuting accidents occurred in France[25]. In France, one in every four commuting victim was on a motorised two-wheeler[26]. However, in the German study of chemical industry workers, cars (33%) and bicycles (31%) were almost equally often involved in commuting accidents[27].

Public transportation also may pose a danger to pedestrians in cities. In Gothenburg tram traffic caused four times more often injuries to pedestrians than buses. In fact, three quarters of these injuries occurred at bus or tram stops[28].

Environmental factors

In a German study of chemical company workers, the peak hours for commuting accidents were in the morning between 6.00 a.m. and 8.00 a.m. and in the late afternoon 5.00 p.m. and 7.00 p.m. Most of these commuting accidents took place on Mondays and Tuesdays[29].

Almost two out of three commuting accidents (61%) occurred on the way from the residence to the workplace in Germany and the remainder (39%) occurred on the way back to the home, but these were responsible for longer periods of work inability[30]. According to a study conducted in Gothenburg, Sweden, the trip from home to work exhibited a 40% higher risk of commuting accident than the trip back to home[31]. These differences in accident proneness to and from work are perhaps due to poor weather conditions, or darkness, and the need to hurry. Commuting accidents also most likely to occur during the rush hours, when most vehicles (cars, buses, trains, etc.) are in service.


Preventing commuting accidents

The following chapter will provide an overview on what needs to be considered when one tries to prevent commuting accidents: nowadays there are tools and methods to ensure better safety and visibility, easy check-ups and maintenance routines to follow, basic traffic training and awareness raising on the potential risks and ways to avoid risks. Furthermore, employers are starting to take responsibility in assessing risks and providing guidelines for workers.

Risk assessment and organisation policy

A Risk assessment should include risks related to commuting both private and public transport and other means. Employers must conduct suitable risk assessments and set in place measures to ensure that commuting journeys are safe, drivers are fit and are competent to drive safely and that vehicles are fit-for-purpose and in a safe condition[32].

Companies must make sure that workers and managers are aware of the company's policy on safe driving. Companies should establish a written safety policy and instructions for the drivers. For example, the company should emphasize that

  • employees should never drive faster than road conditions safely allow,
  • employees should obey speed limits at all times (including variable limits and temporary limits at road works)[33].

Traffic environment and visibility

Weather is often a factor involved in commuting accidents, particularly early in the morning, after a cold night. Changes in weather conditions can alter the road surface, which can increase the risk of skidding, thus increasing the distance needed to stop a vehicle. Icy road surfaces also increase risks for pedestrians and cyclists. The most effective way to prevent skidding is the good maintenance of roads. However, another possibility is to utilize public transport when the roads are icy or to be able to work from home.

Inadequate visibility is another risk factor on the trip to or from work. This can be due to several factors: the weather, darkness, ice covered, otherwise smudgy or broken vehicle windows, and poor lightning conditions or/and lack of daylight. Other visibility risks are drivers' impaired or weakened eyesight. Drivers should clean their cars' windows carefully, using good windshield wipers and checking the car lights.

Streetlights increase the possibility to survey the traffic environment in darkness, and this is why companies should ensure that roads leading to the workplace are well lit. The wearing of reflectors and reflective clothing improves the visibility of pedestrians and bicyclists thus increasing their safety on the road.

Cycling

Although cycle lanes that separate cycles from other road users have been shown to be generally safer they have been shown to increase the risk at junctions, presumably because of a loss of visual (eye) contact between the cyclists and drivers. Particular care should therefore be taken in designing intersections (especially roundabouts) as potential high risk locations.[34]

Technical preventive measures

Safety devices and aspects

Wearing a helmet decreases the risk of head injuries while cycling, roller-skating and motorcycling [35], [36]. Several countries have legislation requiring cyclists to wear helmets. Cycling helmets can protect the head when properly used. At least in Finland, some companies recommend and at times even cover the expenses of purchasing cycling helmets for their employees. If workplaces provide bicycles for their workers, the condition of the bicycles should be checked regularly. Employees should take safety aspects into consideration when buying any vehicles: all new car models must pass certain safety tests before they are put on the market for use. Euroncap [37] provides up-to-date and comprehensive online information regarding the safety of cars and about protection of the users.

For pedestrians, slippery of roads and pavements increases the risk of slipping and falling. The most effective prevention method to avoid slips is to have an anti-slip sole or to wear separate anti-slip grid pads on the shoes. However, these anti-slip grid pads or shoes can damage the flooring of interiors, and they also can be slippery on indoors floors. Therefore there needs to be the possibility for taking the anti-slip shoes or separate grip-pads off before continuing further into the building such as placing chairs in the lobby next to entrance. At times companies financially support the acquiring of these anti-slip grip pads or anti-slip shoes for their employees.

Regular checks and maintenance

In addition to regular general checks, employees should be taught to check the condition of their vehicles before driving a car or a bicycle. If the vehicle is damaged or fails the check, the driver should conduct repairs done before setting out. The driver should ensure that there is good visibility from inside the vehicle by cleaning the windows or removing snow before starting to drive.

Maintaining safe vehicles is crucial for commuting safety. Employees should ensure that their vehicles are maintained, and tests for motor vehicle safety should be performed annually. Since tyres are important for safety, especially when braking, they must meet safety requirements. They should be checked before driving and replaced by new tyres when they show signs of wear. Tyre pressure needs to be checked regularly as well. Seasonal changes in road surfaces may necessitate the use of different tyres for summer and winter.

Bicycles require also maintenance especially in spring after the winter break. For example, bicyclists should check that their brakes are working properly, and whether the tyres require more air pressure. The chains ought to be oiled as well. In many countries, lights and reflective materials are required on the side and back of the bicycle to increase the visibility.

Organisational measures

Training

Companies can ensure that workers have the prerequisites to ensure safe commuting travel by providing training. There can be training of car and bicycle drivers and pedestrians to increase their awareness of risks. Cars and vulnerable road users demand different training, but traffic regulations are the same for all road users. It is important that all road users know and adhere to traffic regulations. The awareness of traffic safety can be maintained and even increased, by traffic safety campaigns.

Training of traffic safety should begin early in the home and at day care centres with young children, and all people should also be taught safe road habits (e.g. not crossing the street when the traffic light is red, bicycling in the road area reserved for bicycles, etc.). These habits should be reinforced later, and training should be updated regularly in order to keep road safety in mind.

Managing time pressure and fatigue

The trip to work is usually done on a tight schedule. Time pressure can lead to risk situations on the roads, careless behaviour and speeding. High speed increases the risk of serious, even fatal, road crashes. Fatigue is another well-known traffic accident risk. When drivers and bicyclists do not sleep enough, or have spent long periods awake, naturally they are more tired and less alert.

Companies can improve safety on commuting journeys by allowing flexibility in the working schedule. This can allow employees to avoid travelling during rush hours. In order to avoid haste on the road, routes and schedules for road travel should be planned so that it is possible to take breaks during long commuting trips and to adhere to speed limits. Different weather and rush hour conditions have to be taken into account when planning schedules. Not only may time pressure lead to speeding, but it may also increase workers' stress and risk of suffering a commuting accident.

Drivers can prevent fatigue by setting out on a journey when they are well rested. In addition to professional drivers, the risk of fatigue is also present for non-professional drivers, and this should be taken into consideration after a long working day and possibly a long drive home (commuter traffic). Especially for shift- and night-workers, the trip from the workplace to home might be dangerous because of tiredness.

Challenges of monotonous driving

Driving is a monotonous task, especially on motorways. At the same time however, it requires a high degree of concentration. Drivers often drive faster on motorways than on rural or city roads and high speed increases the risk of a crash. At increasing speeds, the driver needs to be even more alert. The fact that driving is a monotonous task may reduce the drivers' attention to the traffic environment; and this can lower the reaction time of the driver. Drinking coffee, having breaks and listening to the radio are ways to prevent tiredness when driving.


Conclusions

The journey to the workplace is the most hazardous part of the workday [38], because in many professions the risk of commuting accidents is higher than that of workplace accidents. This is especially true for women. Employees can undertake many ways to improve their safety during commuting: for example, using a safety belt while driving (compulsory in EU since 2006), wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle or adding anti-slip devices over their outdoor footwear during wintertime. Companies can improve the safety of their employees by adopting a policy which combines organising and technical measures including flexible working times so that employees can avoid the need to travel during the rush hours.


References

  1. Forsström, Å., Commuting accidents. A study of commuting accidents and casualties in some Swedish regions during 1971 Publications edited by the Departments of Geography, University of Gothenburg, series B no 69 Göteborg, 1982.
  2. Eurostat - The Statistical Office of the European Communities, Euroopan työtapaturmatilastot (ESAW). Menetelmät - Vuoden 2001 painos. Euroopan yhteisöjen virallisten julkaisujen toimisto, Luxembourg, 2001.
  3. Eurostat - The Statistical Office of the European Communities, Health and safety at work in Europe (1999-2007). Eurostat statistical books 2010 edition. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2010.
  4. Costa, G., Pickup, L. & Di Martino, V., 'Commuting - a further stress factor for working people: evidence from the European Community. I. A review', International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, Vol. 60, 1988, pp. 371-376.
  5. EUROFOUND – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Fifth European Working Conditions survey - 2010, Survey mapping tool. Retrieved 5 March 2015 from: [1]
  6. Charbotel, B., Martin, J. L. & Chiron, M., 'Work-related versus non-work-related road accidents, developments in the last decade in France', Accident Analysis & Prevention, Vol. 42, 2010, pp. 604-611.
  7. Aldman, B., Forsström, Å. & Samuelsson, U., Arbetsresor och färdolycksfall. Sammanfattande slutrapport. Chalmers Tekniska Högskola, Göteborg, 1981
  8. Costa, G., Pickup, L. & Di Martino, V., 'Commuting - a further stress factor for working people: evidence from the European Community. II. An empirical study', International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, Vol. 60, 1988, pp. 377-385.
  9. ETSC. Reducing Road Safety Risk Driving for Work and To Work in the EU. An Overview. (2010). http://archive.etsc.eu/documents/Reducing%20Road%20Safety%20Risk%20Driving%20for%20Work%20and%20To%20Work%20in%20the%20EU%20-%20An%20Overview_Final%202010.doc.pdf
  10. Salminen, S., 'Traffic accidents during work and work commuting', International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, Vol. 26, 2000, pp. 75-85.
  11. Forsström, Å., Commuting accidents. A study of commuting accidents and casualties in some Swedish regions during 1971 Publications edited by the Departments of Geography, University of Gothenburg, series B no 69 Göteborg, 1982.
  12. Aldman, B., Leandoer, L., Thorsen, G. & Werner, G., 'En trafikundersökning inom yrkesskadeförsäkringen', Socialmedicinsk Tidskrift, Vol. 6, 1960, pp. 219-227.
  13. Chiron, M., Bernard, M., Lafont, S. & Lagarde, E., 'Tiring job and work related injury road crashes in the GAZEL cohort', Accident Analysis & Prevention, Vol. 40, 2008, pp. 1096-1104.
  14. Forsström, Å., Commuting accidents. A study of commuting accidents and casualties in some Swedish regions during 1971 Publications edited by the Departments of Geography, University of Gothenburg, series B no 69 Göteborg, 1982.
  15. Chiron, M., Bernard, M., Lafont, S. & Lagarde, E., 'Tiring job and work related injury road crashes in the GAZEL cohort', Accident Analysis & Prevention, Vol. 40, 2008, pp. 1096-1104.
  16. Charbotel, B., Chiron, M., Martin, J.-L. & Bergeret, A., 'Work-related road accidents in France', European Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 17, 2001, pp. 773-778.
  17. Zepf, K. I., Letzel, S., Voelter-Mahlknecht, S., Wriede, U., Husemann, B. & Escobar Pinzon, L. C., 'Commuting accidents in the German chemical industry', Industrial Health, Vol. 48, 2010, pp. 164-170.
  18. Charbotel, B., Chiron, M., Martin, J.-L. & Bergeret, A., 'Work-related road accidents in France', European Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 17, 2001, pp. 773-778.
  19. Hours, M., Fort, E., Charbotel, B. & Chiron, M., 'Jobs at risk of work-related road crashes: An analysis of the casualties from the Rhone Road Trauma Registry (France)', Safety Science, Vol. 49, 2001, No. 8-9, pp. 1270-1276.
  20. Zepf, K. I., Letzel, S., Voelter-Mahlknecht, S., Wriede, U., Husemann, B. & Escobar Pinzon, L. C., 'Commuting accidents in the German chemical industry', Industrial Health, Vol. 48, 2010, pp. 164-170.
  21. Nenonen, N., 'Occupational accidents in the Finnish local government sector: Utilisation of national statistics', International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion, Vol. 18, 2011, no. 4, pp. 321-329.
  22. Forsström, Å., Commuting accidents. A study of commuting accidents and casualties in some Swedish regions during 1971 Publications edited by the Departments of Geography, University of Gothenburg, series B no 69 Göteborg, 1982.
  23. Forsström, Å., Commuting accidents. A study of commuting accidents and casualties in some Swedish regions during 1971 Publications edited by the Departments of Geography, University of Gothenburg, series B no 69 Göteborg, 1982.
  24. Aldman, B., Forsström, Å. & Samuelsson, U., Arbetsresor och färdolycksfall. Sammanfattande slutrapport. Chalmers Tekniska Högskola, Göteborg, 1981.
  25. Charbotel, B., Chiron, M., Martin, J.-L. & Bergeret, A., 'Work-related road accidents in France', European Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 17, 2001, pp. 773-778.
  26. Hours, M., Fort, E., Charbotel, B. & Chiron, M., 'Jobs at risk of work-related road crashes: An analysis of the casualties from the Rhone Road Trauma Registry (France)', Safety Science, Vol. 49, 2001, No. 8-9, pp. 1270-1276.
  27. Zepf, K. I., Letzel, S., Voelter-Mahlknecht, S., Wriede, U., Husemann, B. & Escobar Pinzon, L. C., 'Commuting accidents in the German chemical industry', Industrial Health, Vol. 48, 2010, pp. 164-170.
  28. Hedelin, A., Bunketorp, O. & Björnstig, U., 'Public transport in metropolitan areas - a danger for unprotected road users', Safety Science, Vol. 40, 2002, pp. 467-477.
  29. Zepf, K. I., Letzel, S., Voelter-Mahlknecht, S., Wriede, U., Husemann, B. & Escobar Pinzon, L. C., 'Commuting accidents in the German chemical industry', Industrial Health, Vol. 48, 2010, pp. 164-170.
  30. Zepf, K. I., Letzel, S., Voelter-Mahlknecht, S., Wriede, U., Husemann, B. & Escobar Pinzon, L. C., 'Commuting accidents in the German chemical industry', Industrial Health, Vol. 48, 2010, pp. 164-170.
  31. Aldman, B., Forsström, Å. & Samuelsson, U., Arbetsresor och färdolycksfall. Sammanfattande slutrapport. Chalmers Tekniska Högskola, Göteborg, 1981.
  32. ROSPA a - The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (publishing year is not available). Vehicle technology, a manager's guide. Available at: [2]
  33. ROSPA b - The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (publishing year is not available). Driving for work - Safer speeds. Available at: [3]
  34. e Geus, B., et al., A prospective cohort study on minor accidents involving commuter cyclists in Belgium. Accid. Anal. Prev. 2012 Mar;45:683-93. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2011.09.045. Epub 2011 Nov 4.
  35. Olkkonen, S., Lahdenranta, U., Slätis, P. & Honkanen, R., 'Bicycle accidents often cause disability - An analysis of medical and social consequences of nonfatal bicycle accidents', Scandinavian Journal of Social Medicine, Vol. 21, 1993, no. 2, pp. 98-106.
  36. Amoros, E., Chiron, M., Martin, J.-L., Thélot, B. & Laumon, B., 'Bicycle helmet wearing and the risk of head, face, and neck injury: a French case-control study based on a road trauma registry', Injury Prevention, Vol. 18, 2012, pp. 27-32.
  37. Euroncap, The official site of the European new car assessment programme (2011). Retrieved 17 March 2011, from: [4]
  38. Salminen, S., 'Traffic accidents during work and work commuting', International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, Vol. 26, 2000, pp. 75-85.


Links to further reading

Euroncap, The official site of the European new car assessment programme (2011). Retrieved 17 March 2011, from: [5]

ETSC - European Transport Safety Council (1 May 2009). PRAISE - Preventing road accidents and injuries for the safety of employees. Retrieved 31 October 2012, from: [6]

EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. A review of accidents and injuries to road transport drivers. Available at: [7]

EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Managing risks to drivers in road transport. Available at: [8]

ROSPA a - The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (publishing year is not available). Vehicle technology, a manager's guide. Available at: [9]

ROSPA b - The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (publishing year is not available). Driving for work - Safer speeds. Available at: [10]

PRAISE - Preventing Road Accidents and injuries for the Safety of Employees. Safer Commuting to Work, 2010, Available at: [11]