Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of work-related death from injury in the United States, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Crashes accounted for about 23 percent of all on-the-job deaths during 2000.
Nearly 12,000 workers died in crashes between 1992 and 2000. During this time the number of workers who were fatally injured in crashes increased almost 20 percent — from 1,135 deaths in 1992 to 1,347 in 2000. A total of 1,471 occurred in in 1999, the highest total during the 9-year span.
Not surprisingly, death rates were highest for workers whose daily job activities included driving or riding in a motor vehicle. For example, the on-the-job death rate among truck drivers (17.7 per 100,000 workers) was at least 7 times the rate for any other occupational group.
Work-related motor vehicle deaths, 1992-2000, by time of day
Motor vehicle deaths in the general population, 1992-2000, by time of day
Most work-related deaths in motor vehicle crashes occur during the day, peaking around midday, while deaths in the general population start increasing in the late afternoon and stay elevated until the early hours of the morning.
Single-vehicle crashes accounted for about half of work-related vehicle crash deaths. This is similar to the pattern in the general population. But the patterns differed by time of day. Most workplace crash deaths during 1992-2000 occurred in the middle of the day, while in the general population crash deaths peaked toward the end of the workday and into the early evening.
"Mandatory use of seat belts is the single most important driver safety policy that employers can implement and enforce to reduce the number of workers killed or injured in crashes on the job," NIOSH says. In 1990 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed a belt use requirement for workers on the job, but then the agency changed its mind. In 2002 the Institute petitioned OSHA to issue such a mandate, but the agency has rejected this petition twice (see "OSHA rejects Institute petition on belt use by private sector workers," Jan. 11, 2003).
"The NIOSH report clearly supports the Institute's petition, and this is one more reason OSHA ought to rethink its denials," says Institute chief operating officer Adrian Lund.
In its report NIOSH urges employers to plan their delivery schedules to allow workers to obey speed limits and stay within federally mandated limits on driving hours. The report further urges employers to choose fleet vehicles with the highest possible safety ratings.