Older Truckers More Prone to Accidents?

October 11, 2013

Highway transportation incidents are the leading cause of occupational fatalities in the United States, with the highest fatality rates occurring among workers 65 and older, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The report says older workers are more than three times as likely to die in a highway-related incident compared to those between the ages of 18 and 54.

The CDC analyzed a total of 11,587 U.S. workers aged 18 and older who died in occupational highway transportation incidents between 2008 and 2010. Of that group, 3,113 or 26.9% were aged 55 and older but overall, fatality rates were highest among workers aged 65 and older (3.1 deaths per 100,000 full-time-equivalent or "FTE" workers).

Those aged 55 to 64 years were half as likely to die in accidents (1.4 deaths per 100,000 workers) than the older group. The fatality rate for those between the ages of 18 and 54 years was significantly lower (0.9 per 100,000 workers).

Higher proportions of deaths involving tractor-trailers, however, were observed for workers aged 18 to 54 years and 55 to 64 years; some 31% and 37%, respectively, according to the research conducted by Stephanie Pratt, PhD, and Rosa Rodríguez-Acosta, PhD, with the division of safety research within the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Pratt and Rodríguez-Acosta also found that collisions between vehicles accounted for the largest proportion of deaths in each age group: 43% for those aged 18-54; some 43% to those aged 55 to 64; and 48% for those 65 and older.

Among workers aged 65 and above, the type of vehicle most often involved was an automobile (23%), followed by a tractor-trailer (22%), or pickup truck (15%), and a greater proportion of deaths involved off-road and industrial vehicles at 9%, compared with 2% for the other age groups, NIOSH's researchers found.

The safety of older workers who drive motor vehicles at work is of particular concern for employers, health professionals, and occupational safety professionals for at least four reasons, the CDC study states. Older workers bring a wealth of skills and experience to the workplace, making contributions beyond the traditional retirement age of 65 years. Starting at age 60 years, drivers involved in a crash are more likely to die from crash-related injuries than are drivers less than 60 years of age.

This greater susceptibility to fatal injury has been found to be more important than excess crash involvement in explaining higher death rates for crash-involved drivers, researchers said. The ability to drive is affected by physical and cognitive changes associated with normal aging: declines in visual acuity, skill in processing complex visual information, reaction time, executive functioning, and contrast and glare sensitivity; and higher prevalence of comorbid conditions (In medicine, comorbidity is either the presence of one or more disorders (or diseases) in addition to a primary disease or disorder, or the effect of such additional disorders or diseases).

These factors might be addressed by employers through injury prevention and wellness programs, and by workers through regular health examinations and screenings, researchers point out.

Also significant, researchers said, that the size of the U.S. workforce more than 55 years old is projected to increase from approximately 15 million in 1990 to 41 million in 2020, comprising 25.2% of the workforce in 2020, compared with 11.9% in 1990. Therefore, this problem is likely to increase.

Modifiable behavioral and environmental risk factors for occupational highway transportation deaths include long hours of work, fatigue, occupational stress, time pressure, distracted driving, and nonuse of seat belts. Interventions to mitigate these risk factors will benefit drivers of all ages, the CDC researchers said.

Additional interventions of particular benefit to all older drivers include the following: selection and adaptation of vehicles to better accommodate them; policies encouraging less driving overall, less nighttime driving; route and trip planning to reduce stress and fatigue; refresher driver training; and provision of information about medical conditions and medications known to affect driving ability.

Employers also should consider allowing drivers to use their judgment to reschedule travel or stop driving in cases of fatigue, illness, bad weather, or darkness, they said.

For workers who frequently might stand or walk near roadways, educational or training strategies are needed to assist older workers in compensating for age-related perceptual or cognitive deficits, the CDC study researchers said, but few of such interventions are ready for employers to implement.

Prevention of work-related motor vehicle crashes is a shared responsibility between employers and workers, and both groups should take an active role in developing and implementing prevention strategies, the CDC said.


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