Engaging workers in reducing motor vehicle incidents

Jan 22, 2013

Engaging workers in reducing motor vehicle incidentsYou and your co-workers may be an untapped resource in reducing the risk of motor vehicle incidents and a proven way to enable and sustain change, according to the results of a survey conducted for Health & Safety Ontario by Montana State University's Center for Health and Safety Culture. The survey was conducted in collaboration with the Motor Vehicle Safety Action Committee (MVSAC), a stakeholder group led by Workplace Safety & Prevention Services that comprises representatives from industry, prevention system, government, and community organizations.

The survey found that respondents have a strong perception of harm and sense of disapproval for six risky driving behaviours:

  • not wearing a seatbelt
  • reading or sending text messages while driving
  • using a cell phone while driving (with or without hands-free technology)
  • driving while fatigued, excessively tired or sick
  • driving aggressively/speeding
  • driving after drinking.
Furthermore, the respondents believe they should try to prevent co-workers from engaging in these behaviours. However, many respondents feel they lack the knowledge, confidence, or sense of support from co-workers and supervisors to do so. 

This survey is the first phase in a multi-phase, multi-partner initiative led by Workplace Safety and Prevention Services on behalf of Health & Safety Ontario. It aims to reduce the number of motor vehicle incidents by engaging employees in creating a road safety culture within their own workplace. If the project is successful, it could offer a whole new approach to engaging workers in other workplace safety challenges. Learn more about the project and how workplaces could benefit.

Why road safety

Motor vehicle incidents (MVIs) in Ontario account for more than 38% of all Ontario worker traumatic fatalities1. Most Ontario drivers do not engage in risky behaviour. Instead, the greatest harm results from the behaviour of a small number of people. Traditional safety messaging has had little effect in changing their behaviour.

A 2007 report from Transport Canada, Analysis and estimation of the social cost of motor vehicle collisions, helps put unsafe driving behaviour into perspective. Here are some excerpts, based on data from 2004:
  • motor vehicle collisions in Ontario in 2004 had a social cost of $17.9 billion
  • fatal collisions accounted for less than 1% of the 231,548 Highway Traffic Act reportable collisions, but represented $11.5 billion or 64% of total estimated social costs
  • injury collisions comprised 27% of all collisions and 27% or $5 billion of all costs
  • collisions involving larger trucks represented only 7% of all collisions, 18% of fatal collisions and 15% ($3 billion) of the social costs
  • other major contributors to the social costs of motor vehicle collisions included traffic delays, out-of-pocket expenses, hospital/health care, towing, and police, fire and ambulance services.
In recent years, the province has worked with many partners to make roads safer, including police and public health and safety organizations in the public, corporate and not-for-profit sectors. Among the resulting changes are
  • distracted driving legislation
  • greater penalties for infractions
  • street racing/stunt driving legislation
  • blood alcohol content "warn" range sanctions/reduced suspension with ignition interlock
  • speed limiters for large trucks
  • expanded vehicle impoundment program.

Although these changes have had an effect, the statistics show a sizable problem remains. Consider these figures from Ontario Road Safety Annual Report (ORSAR) 2009:

  • 216,315 collisions
  • 564 fatalities
  • 62,562 people injured
  • 4,824 hospital admissions
  • 47,040 days of stay in hospitals

These figures show that transforming our road safety culture could have a tremendous impact on the social and financial costs of motor vehicle incidents.

How the road safety initiative came about

In June 2011, Health & Safety Ontario hosted a three-day Motor Vehicle Safety Institute that explored a new way to help eliminate injuries and fatalities resulting from motor vehicle incidents on roads and in workplaces. Fifty people from about 40 Ontario industry, prevention system, government, community, and other organizations took part.

During the institute, participants learned about the power of Positive Community Norms (PCNs), a framework for improving health and safety developed by the Center for Health and Safety Culture at Montana State University2, and a proven way to enable and sustain change. In this instance, sustainable change can occur by

  • revisiting long-held assumptions and surfacing the positive, healthy, normative attitudes and behaviours that already exist within us and that we instinctively want to grow
  • comparing what we perceive to be true about motor vehicle safety and what science tells us is true
  • identifying what steps we need to take to change what people believe and how they act.

The outcome: stakeholders engaged in transforming safety culture, whether in a community or an organization.

PCNs have already played an active role in changing attitudes and behaviours involving other aspects of North American life, such as smoking, and drinking and driving. The Motor Vehicle Action Safety Committee, which together during the Motor Vehicle Safety Institute, has now become the driving force behind this initiative to reduce motor vehicle incidents in Ontario through the PCN process.

How the initiative could make a difference to your employees and your business

According to the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association, driving is one of the highest risk activities an employer ever requires employees to undertake. Unlike a worksite, the types of drivers and vehicles sharing the road with employees are not under the control of the employer.

If employers have workers driving from site to site, travelling to a meeting, or even going out on a coffee run, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board considers them to be occupational drivers. Between 2006 and 2010, the board reported more than 7,000 lost-time injury claims and 149 fatalities involving occupational driving.

These statistics do not take into account social and financial costs incurred by employees and employers of motor vehicle incidents not considered occupational driving. For instance, incidents that occur among non-occupational drivers during their personal time, whether on their way to and from work or otherwise.

Combined, all motor vehicle incidents can impose costs on individuals and their employers in a number of areas:

  • medical/hospital expenses
  • rehabilitation
  • higher insurance premiums
  • loss of assets
  • absence from work
  • downtime/lost productivity
  • workers compensation premium increases
  • administration
  • potential loss of customers
  • retraining
  • higher benefit costs

How employers can make a difference

Analysis of the survey results identified three ways in which employers can help reduce the risk of motor vehicle incidents among employees:

  • establish a clear sense of concern regarding various risky driving behaviours
    • communicate to all employees the risks associated with various driving behaviours, especially those with lower perceptions of harm and disapproval.
  • build the skills, confidence and sense of support for employees to prevent co-workers from engaging in risky driving behaviours:
    • build on existing strong positive norms for preventing co-workers from engaging in risky driving behaviour
    • use broad, universal media campaigns reaching all employees
    • explore ways to incorporate engaging bystanders in existing communication materials and training programs.
  • bolster strategies to engage employees in preventing risky driving behaviours among their co-workers
    • review policies, procedures and processes to eliminate the potential for engaging in potentially risky driving behaviours
    • embed bystander engagement training into safety programs
    • foster accurate communication of norms by supervisors and managers.

What’s next

The survey, conducted on behalf of Health & Safety Ontario, by the Center for Health and Safety Culture, has established baseline data on existing community norms. The next step, phase 2, also undertaken in collaboration with the center, involves pilot testing the ability of PCNs to reduce the risk of motor vehicle incidents by

  • surveying workers in specific workplaces to gauge existing norms
  • developing and introducing resources into these workplaces that promote safer driving behaviour and support employee efforts to change the road safety culture (e.g., posters and other educational material)
  • evaluating the pilot test by such means as
    • resurveying workers and comparing their responses to the first survey 
    • conducting focus groups and one-on-one interviews to obtain feedback and insights on any shifts in attitudes and beliefs. For example, do workers feel more comfortable now having conversations with co-workers about their behaviour? Have any such conversations taken place? Have they actually prevented a worker from engaging in one of the risky driving behaviours?

If the pilot is successful, and resources become available, it will create potential for prevention activity on at least two fronts:

  • bystander engagement campaigns aimed at a wider audience
  • a tool kit of resources to help workplaces launch their own internal bystander engagement campaigns

For more information

To learn more about this initiative,

  • watch for continued coverage in HSO Network News and Magazine
  • join the online community that has been developed to connect those interested in the project.

1Source: Detailed Traumatic Fatality Reports, 2006-2010, published by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

2Dr. Jeff Linkenbach, director of the Center for Health and Safety Culture at Montana State University, pioneered the Positive Community Norms (PCN) approach. Under his direction, the center has been involved in many U.S. PCN campaigns addressing such issues as increasing seatbelt use, preventing substance abuse, preventing child abuse, and reducing underage drinking.