Q: Did you know workplace deaths are on the rise?
A: The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a 7% rise in workplace deaths since 2015. Fatal work injuries reached 5,190 in 2016, the third consecutive annual increase and the first time in nearly a decade that workplace fatalities topped 5,000.
As I think about that, I also think of an expression that rings true in many work settings and applies equally to employers and employees: “They don’t know what they don’t know.”
I have been working with a number of individuals at new and smaller companies interested in incorporating traffic safety into their workplace safety culture. I see firsthand how “they don’t know what they don’t know,” because they don’t know how to address risky driving behaviors that can impact the wellbeing of their organizations.
To the best of my knowledge, there is no A-to-Z manual that spells out why traffic safety makes dollars and sense. My job is to fill that information gap and serve as a human manual. Through the Our Driving Concern program, I work to supply free education, training and resources, all with the goal of helping employers combat the costly toll of crashes.
In 2016, Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate transportation incidents remain the most common fatal workplace event. Nearly 2,100 people died, with transportation incidents accounting for two out of five workplace fatalities. And yet your focus should extend well beyond work incidents.
Off-the-job crashes account for about 81% of employer health benefits costs and often involve employee family members. Half of crash-related injuries cause employees to miss work, whether they occur on the daily commute or on the job.
Driver distraction is one of the leading causes of crashes.
In Oklahoma, an average of 1,780 drivers using electronic devices have been involved in crashes over a five-year period from 2011-2015, according to data from the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office. During that time, more than 12 fatal crashes and more than 670 injury crashes occurred every year. Much of this pain is the result of our own choices, including cell phone use behind the wheel.
People think they are good multitaskers. Wrong. They’ve actually fallen for a myth.
The human brain cannot handle two thinking tasks at the same time, like driving and talking on the phone. Your brain toggles quickly between these two tasks, which can slow reaction time and cause crashes.
Everyone seems to think hands-free driving is safer. Hands-free devices are not safer, nor are they risk-free. Drivers talking on cell phones can miss seeing up to 50% of what is in their driving environment, including stop signs, red lights and pedestrians. Put the phone away. I like to say, “Alert today, alive tomorrow!”
It is important you are having conversations with your employees, co-workers and family members about risks associated with cell phone driver distraction. Take a minute and forward our eNewsletter to a colleague, encourage him or her to have a safety talk during a regular workplace safety meeting and also to take advantage of our free training sessions. You can learn what you don’t know. Get started:
- Watch: Distracted Driving: Your Employees Can Protect Themselves & Others
- Share: Distracted Driving Posters and Tip Sheets
- Reserve: Through the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office and the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office, arrangements can be made to use a distracted driving simulator
What You Need to Know about Impairment and Why It Matters
Most employers lack an understanding of impairment and its impact on the workplace.
The U.S. is experiencing an epidemic of drug- and impairment-related deaths. Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (prescription pain relievers and heroin). Despite efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, deaths from drug overdoses reached an all-time high in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The percentage of fatally injured drivers testing positive for drugs – 40% ─ is almost the same as those testing positive for alcohol. The most recent roadside survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 22% of drivers tested positive for some drug or medication.
According to the National Safety Council, the use and abuse of opioid painkillers, and the development and use of synthetic cannabinoids in the workplace has reached a zenith. NSC reports 23% of the U.S. workforce has used drugs non-medically. More than 20% of the workforce has misused painkillers. Even employees who take a regular dose of medication may be too impaired to work.
Drug overdoses now cause more deaths than car crashes, and painkillers contribute to more deaths than any other type of drugs. The positivity rate for amphetamines has nearly tripled in the U.S. workforce since 1997, from 0.3% to 0.9% in 2013. Also troubling is the positivity rates for opiates. The rate for these drugs has more than doubled over the last decade—oxycodone use alone has gone up 71% since 2005, according to Quest Diagnostics.
Off the job crashes account for 81% of employer crash-related health benefits costs, and half of crash-related injuries cause employees to miss work. According to NSC Injury Facts, the average economic cost of a crash is more than $1 million per death and more than $78,000 per nonfatal disabling injury. Employers pay significant costs associated with off-the-job crashes, including decreases in employee health, wellbeing and productivity, and increases in lost time from work and insurance costs.
Many people do not instantly picture suit-and-tie professionals when they think of a drug addict. They think of someone without a job, possibly living on the streets, dirty and unkempt. The reality, though, is that substance abuse is common among full-time employees in the U.S.
According the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, 10.8 million full-time workers in the U.S. have a substance abuse disorder. Substance abuse by full-time employees makes up over half (55.1%) of adults aged 18-24 with a substance abuse disorder. Substance use disorders cost the nation an estimated $276 billion a year, with much of the cost resulting from lost work productivity and increased healthcare spending. Seventy-six percent of people with drug or alcohol problems are employed.
In a 2014 survey on drug use, SAMHSA found there are 4.3 million current non-medical users of painkillers and nearly 2 million people have painkiller substance use disorders.
According to the NSC:
- Employers with successful drug-free workplace programs report improvements in morale and productivity and decreases in absenteeism, accidents, down time, turnover and theft
- Employers with long-standing programs report better health status among employees and family members and decreased use of medical benefits by these same groups
Live with Lisa: When Light Turns Yellow, It’s Not a Signal to ‘Punch It’
A yellow light is not a signal to “punch it,” says Our Driving Concern Senior Program Manager Lisa Robinson.
In the latest of her Live with Lisa vlogs, she goes on to share a startling traffic safety fact: 35% to 40% of crashes in the U.S. are intersection-related crashes. Most result from human error, such as not scanning ahead or misjudging another’s speed.
In Oklahoma, there were 72,176 crashes in 2016, according to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office. That’s nearly 200 crashes every day. As many as 4 in 10 of those crashes occurred in an intersection. Every crash has the potential to impact an employer’s bottom line.
Work to reduce risky driving behaviors at your workplace. Watch/Share: Proceed with Caution When Arriving at Life’s Intersections. Collect the Set (and play them on your office video monitors): Live with Lisa
No Need for Accountant: Calculate Cost of Crashes with Cool New Tool
In a SafetyFirst blog, Network of Employers for Traffic Safety Executive Director Joseph McKillips notes a serious car crash can have impacts that stretch beyond those in the passenger compartments. He describes one such crash in Houston. An SUV was hit by another vehicle while sitting at a stop sign, leaving the driver and passenger of the SUV severely injured.
McKillips writes: “They both went through multiple surgeries, doctor visits and rehab. They could not care for themselves or their family, and they were incapable of working for an extended period. Both are now fully recovered, but their time away from work and the financial aftermath suffered by them and their employer was substantial.”
McKillips does not try quantifying the emotional toll of car crashes, but says employers can capture what collisions cost them thanks to a new tool from NETS.
- Read: Companies Are Not Immune to Car Crash Costs
- Put it to use at your workplace: Cost of Crashes Calculator
Study: Truckers Less Likely to Be Belted in Lighter Traffic
In a study conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, seat belt use by drivers of medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses rose from 84% in 2013 to 86% in 2016. The important thing for employers, including fleet owners and fleet managers, to note:
- Usage rates were higher on expressways (89%) compared to surface streets (83%)
- Safety belt use in heavy traffic (86%) continues to be higher than in light traffic (83%)
In Oklahoma, more people are killed in rural crashes, according to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office. One reason: It takes medical responders longer to reach crash scenes. In 2016, 133 of 244 (59.4%) unbelted crash fatalities were recorded on rural roads.
Seat belts save lives and can save your organization money. In Oklahoma, the average workplace motor vehicle crash costs $16,500. That figure climbs to $74,000 if an employee is injured and could top $500,000 if an employee is killed.
Use these free resources to help promote seat belt use at your organization:
- What Happens When Unbuckled Bodies Collide in a Crash
- Life is Better in the Company of a Good Co-Pilot
- Handouts and Brochures: Seat Belts Save Lives
Courtesy Drivers Score Winning Points at the Cotton Bowl
Prior to the Cotton Bowl each of the last two years, Our Driving Concern Senior Program Manager Lisa Robinson addressed courtesy drivers at the invitation of officials looking to stage safer events.
Of the 53 people who attended her safety talk in December, 33 were return drivers from 2016. Robinson polled the drivers to learn more about the impact of her efforts. The results indicate a little chat can make a big difference:
- Did you pay more attention to driving safely while you were working at the Cotton Bowl? Yes ─ 97%. No ─ 3%.
- Did you share anything that was discussed or talk to anyone about traffic safety? Yes ─ 48%. No ─ 52%.
- Did you pay more attention to driving safely after you worked at the Cotton Bowl? Yes ─ 79%. No ─ 21%.
Another takeaway: Employers are positioned to drive change. Putting traffic safety into your workplace safety culture is one way to do it. And one place to start is with a safe driving policy. Behaviors learned in the workplace often are mimicked at home.
Robinson’s work at the Cotton Bowl was featured in a SafetyFirst blog post in January. The game? Ohio State defeated USC 24-7.