Monday, May 05, 2003

How’s My Driving?

There was an interesting article in Sunday’s Washington Post about the high number of lives saved in the Iraq war due to the increased use and effectiveness of body armor which almost eliminated deaths due to bullet or shrapnel injuries to the chest or abdomen. Buried in the article were a couple of paragraphs that could provide valuable insight into a major workplace hazard: highway accidents.

Highway accidents are the leading cause of workplace fatalities, making up almost 29% of the almost 6,000 workplace fatalities in 2001, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These figures have been used by anti-OSHA activists to try to minimize the workplace death toll in the U.S, using the excuse that highway accidents are allegedly the result of bad personal driving habits (or drugs or alcohol or whatever), and therefore there driver's fault and clearly not under the control of the employer.

The U.S. military, however, apparently sees it differently. There are measures that can be taken to reduce traffic accidents, and they saved lives in the recent war in Iraq:
Twelve years ago, 50 percent more soldiers died in accidents (235) than in battle (147). In the recent war, there were only a third as many noncombat fatalities (36) as deaths in battle (101). The same pattern appears to hold for nonfatal injuries, with the data on evacuated Army troops showing that 107 had noncombat injuries, compared with 118 who had combat wounds.

[Col. Terry J. Walters, the physician who is chief of health policy in the office of the Army's surgeon general] attributed the steep drop in noncombat deaths and injuries, in part, to the Army's effort to improve driver safety and to ensure that soldiers were well-rested when operating vehicles. In the first Gulf War, motor vehicle accidents alone accounted for about half of all serious injuries. "Because this was such a motorized effort, we expected many more accidents than we actually saw. I think this is a definitive success story," she said.
Perhaps the Department of Transportation should consult with the Pentagon before issuing new rules concerning how long truckers are allowed to drive.