Danger on the road to work

THE world of work is changing dramatically. There are major impacts on workers’ safety and health and new challenges due to globalisation, demographic changes, labour migration, evolving family structures as well as the consequences of a worldwide economic and financial crisis.

While safety risks and the resulting work accidents are diminishing, work-related commuting accidents are on the rise. The Inter-national Labour Organisation states that 2.2 million work-related deaths occur every year; 350,000 deaths are from accidents at work, 1.7 million are due to occupational diseases, and 158,000 are due to commuting accidents.

According to statistics from Malaysia’s Social Security Organisation (Socso), commuting accidents are on the rise, almost doubling in the last 10 years. Socso reports there were 38,142 commuting accidents last year alone. This is an increase of 85% from 2008, when there were 19,041 such accidents.

The organisation’s data reveals that commuting accidents have increased by 25% in the past five years, from 28,579 accidents in 2015 to 38,142 last year. The manufacturing sector has the highest number of accidents at work as well as the highest number of commuting accidents. While efforts are being made by all stakeholders to minimise and prevent commuting accidents and injuries, what is urgently needed are systematic and collaborative measures to ensure that the rising rate of commuting accidents can be managed effectively.

A recent study by Socso, in collaboration with local universities, shows that of the 89% of accidents that occurred while commuting, 52.1% happened while on the way to work and 36% on the way back from work. The survey also found that 68.8% of cases involved employees working the morning shift, and 55% of the accidents happened within less than 5km from the workplace. Social security systems in Malaysia provide coverage for commuting accidents via employment injury insurance schemes.

However, the system is facing serious challenges such as the rising number of commuting accidents, occupational road accidents, and lack of awareness among the scheme’s contributors about notification of occupational disease related to driving and riding. The impact of a commuting accident is far greater than that of an industrial accident, as commuting accidents normally involve multiple injuries; also, such injuries are more traumatising and usually worse compared with injuries caused by workplace accidents. This results in longer disability durations, higher medical bills, higher impairment ratings and, more importantly, if the worker loses his/her ability to perform economic and social functions, their physical and psychosocial ability could also be affected.

The problems related to the rising number of commuting accidents are a lack of awareness among workers and employers of safe riding and driving while commuting to work, lack of comprehensive training programmes targeted at commuting accident high-risk sectors, and lack of a commuting safety or road safety element in the OSH (occupational safety and health) management system in most workplaces. Socso’s Commuting Accident Prevention Plan was introduced in 2011 to help prevent commuting accidents from happening or minimising injuries if an accident happens. It was carried out through the implementation of four programmes: a commuting accident outreach programme for employers and employees; a safe motorcycle riding programme and defensive driving programme; applied research grants; and establishing a commuting safety management system/road safety elements in OSH management systems.

The introduction of the MS ISO 39001: 2012 Road Traffic Safety Management Systems certification in 2014 also aimed to help organisations that have their own logistics unit to operate their fleet of vehicles according to international standards. With the certification, the participating organisation voluntarily accepts that it has to comply with international standards on road traffic safety, which covers, among others, driver management, vehicle management and journey management. Corporations that obtain the certification would ensure that their staff focus on road traffic safety and comply with rules and regulations, according to the related road safety standard.

Currently, there are many government departments and agencies involved in road accident prevention programmes, such as the Road Transport Department, Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research, Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM), Socso, the Occupational Safety and Health Department, the National Occupational Safety and Health Institute, and others. The enhancement of the commuting safety support programme should also be amplified to comply with OSH policy. Commuting safety management should be incorporated in the policy and be constantly reviewed and updated, in line with the latest developments, such as changes in situations and regulations.

A zero tolerance mindset towards road and workplace accidents is crucial towards achieving a zero accident rate, or Vision Zero, in Malaysia. This is a strategic approach to preventing workplace and commuting accidents and promoting the health and well-being of employees. This can be achieved through continuous awareness programmes such as Socso and PDRM’s road safety awareness programme and the national-level safe travel campaign programme.

TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE

Chairman, Alliance for Safe Community

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