By Jena Williams

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published the results of a study: Occupational Highway Transportation Deaths Among Workers Aged ≥55 Years – United States, 2003-2010. The study found that on-the-job highway transportation death rates increased substantially at age 65, especially in transportation and warehousing industries and in transportation and material moving occupations.

It might seem that the finding of this study is, well, obvious. To be blunt, we tend to expect older workers to die more. But I would caution you to dig a little deeper because I think there is some important information to be gleaned here.

Consider that in the general population, these types of deaths only begin to increase substantially at age 75 years.  Why would deaths increase a decade earlier for workers?

There are many possible reasons and theories for this. I’ll present mine here and hope you’ll add yours in the comments.

The editor recommends interventions to benefit older drivers. (I would argue that these interventions would actually benefit all drivers!) The first is that we need to do a better job of selecting and adapting vehicles to accommodate drivers.

There are many other recommendations as well, such as less driving, less nighttime driving, etc., but I would like to explore the idea of adapting vehicles to accommodate drivers a little more.

Consider that before most people buy a personal vehicle, they sit in it and take it for test drive. Generally, people don’t buy a vehicle that isn’t comfortable to them. Unfortunately, comfort may not be a priority when many companies purchase their vehicles. Instead fuel economy, aerodynamics, and cost take the forefront. Plus, a company’s workforce comes in all shapes and sizes, so initially tailoring vehicles may seem nearly impossible.

One might argue that physical comfort doesn’t really have anything to do with crash-related deaths, but I would disagree. Fatigue is fatigue, whether brought on by long hours or awkward postures. It is still worth considering.

As the article states and we already know, “…older workers bring a wealth of skills and experience to the workplace…” I think we can agree that keeping an experienced worker for an additional ten years is valuable in a market with a declining labor pool.

What kind of investment are you willing to make in a skilled worker to keep them around for another ten years?  Would you improve the stairs into the cab? Would you add or improve handholds? Would you improve adjustability in the seat? Would you improve the location of the steering wheel? All of these can be associated with excess strain and fatigue on the body, potentially increasing crash risk.

And one more question, would you ask them what they need to make their job safer and easier?

These are just some of my thoughts. What are yours?

Link to full report: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6233a1.htm?s_cid=mm6233a1_e

And for drivers – always wear your seatbelt. Always.