Motorcycle riders: on a deadly mission?
Although motorcycling is generally seen as a leisure pastime, many people in the economy operate commercial motorcycles for a living. Yet the delivery-bike riders are more at risk in their workplace than almost any other profession. RÉHANN COETZEE finds out why nobody cares.
Although the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993 (OHS) makes it very clear that “every employer shall provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of his employees”, commercial motorcycle riders do not seem to enjoy this kind of attention.
According to delivery-bike riders interviewed for this article, they cover between 5 000 km and 10 000 km per month, mostly on short hauls – and this on what can at best be described as death traps.
Most delivery-bike riders seen in traffic wear very old crash helmets, gloves only in winter and the only other protective gear would be a rain suit – when it rains. But industry players are not satisfied with this at all.
Think Bike, the motorcycle safety awareness campaign is very concerned about the plight of these bikers. According to Paul Young, chairperson of Think Bike’s board of directors, commercial motorcycle riders have been a major concern for the campaign for some time.
“Of all the motorcycle riders on our roads, these riders are the most at risk. They spend all day on mostly clapped-out bikes in the worst of traffic. They are rushed, because they get paid per delivery. Yet they are not issued with any safety gear, except for a crash helmet often as old as the rider himself.
“We preach to motorcyclists to wear all the gear, all the time – ATGATT. That means wearing a proper helmet, gloves, safety jacket, trousers and boots even if you’re just popping down to the cafe. Most motorcycle accidents happen in town on short runs. And this is exactly the kind of riding that delivery-bike riders do.
“But getting this across as a priority is almost impossible. We see no evidence of unions being interested in these riders. Government does not seem to follow up on inspecting the safety of their workplaces. And we have no authority. Think Bike is a non-profit organisation run completely by volunteers and on donations. We try to raise awareness, but something more needs to be done,” he says.
Although the Transport Education and Training Authority (TETA) does not specifically have any training courses aimed at delivery- bike riders yet, this has been identified as a “chamber project” by the road freight chamber.
“We believe this falls within our scope and mandate,” says Tuelo Mogashoa, executive officer of TETA’s road freight chamber.
“But we will have to look at how organised these riders are as a group. They are scattered across various sectors of the economy and might already be covered by Setas in the sectors in which they work. Delivery riders for pharmacies might be covered by the Health and Welfare Seta (HWSETA), delivery riders for fast food outlets might already be covered by the FoodBev SETA.
“A road freight operator is seen as any business that transports goods on a public road for a reward. By virtue of that they fall within our mandate. So we want to assist them, whether through training or by helping in organising them.”
Mogashoa says TETA is busy with a project in another sector of transport where even owner-operators are involved, so the Seta’s assistance is not necessarily limited to employees.
The motorcycle industry is also concerned about the general safety of delivery-bike riders, says Arnold Olivier, caretaker director of the Association of Motorcycle Importers and Distributors (AMID).
“There are players in the industry who are so serious about this that they would supply safety gear at reduced prices to ensure the safety and wellbeing of delivery-bike riders. AMID will support any efforts and actions aimed at training and better equipping these riders.
“This has always intrigued me. As an employer you are not allowed to let an employee operate a forklift without proper training, but no-one bats an eye if you have a delivery-bike rider who has not had a single day’s rider training. Why is this happening in the commercial motorcycle sector?”
This again notwithstanding the OHS Act’s section 8(e) stating that an employer’s duties to his employees include “providing such information, instructions, training and supervision as may be necessary to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees”.
Olivier says that basic motorcycle maintenance can be included in relevant training.
“But the sad truth is that if an employer does not worry about the wellbeing of the rider, he is unlikely to worry about the equipment the rider has to operate. So the motorcycle deteriorates faster – the chain is not maintained, the tyres are in a treacherous state, the lights might not work. And this makes the actual job of a commercial motorcycle rider even more dangerous.
“A safer working environment might attract more people to the industry and that way improve the labour force. Bikes are perceived as more dangerous, but proper management of the risks can change that impression. This image is perpetuated by conditions that are simply not improved by employers. One realises and accepts that this is a more economical way of delivering goods, but you really should not make it life-threatening through lack of caring,” he says.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993
Section 8. General duties of employers to their employees
1. Every employer shall provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of his employees.
2. Without derogating from the generality of an employer’s duties under subsection (1), the matters to which those duties refer include in particular –
a. the provision and maintenance of systems of work, plant and machinery that, as far as is reasonably practicable, are safe and without risks to health;
b. taking such steps as may be reasonably practicable to eliminate or mitigate any hazard or potential hazard to the safety or health of employees, before resorting to personal protective equipment;
c. making arrangements for ensuring, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety and absence of risks to health in connection with the production, processing, use, handling, storage or transport of articles or substances;
d. establishing, as far as is reasonably practicable, what hazards to the health or safety of persons are attached to any work which is performed, any article or substance which is produced, processed, used, handled, stored or transported and any plant or machinery which is used in his business, and he shall, as far as is reasonably practicable, further establish what precautionary measures should be taken with respect to such work, article, substance, plant or machinery in order to protect the health and safety of persons, and he shall provide the necessary means to apply such precautionary measures;
e. providing such information, instructions, training and supervision as may be necessary to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees;
f. as far as is reasonably practicable, not permitting any employee to do any work or to produce, process, use, handle, store or transport any article or substance or to operate any plant or machinery, unless the precautionary measures contemplated in paragraphs (b) and (d), or any other precautionary measures which may be prescribed, have been taken;
g. taking all necessary measures to ensure that the requirements of this Act are complied with by every person in his employment or on premises under his control where plant or machinery is used;
h. enforcing such measures as may be necessary in the interest of health and safety;
i. ensuring that work is performed and that plant or machinery is used under the general supervision of a person trained to understand the hazards associated with it and who have the authority to ensure that precautionary measures taken by the employer are implemented; and
j. causing all employees to be informed regarding the scope of their authority as contemplated in section 37((1)(b).
Section 9. General duties of employers and self-employed persons to persons other than their employees
1. Every employer shall conduct his undertaking in such a manner as to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that persons other than those in his employment who may be directly affected by his activities are not thereby exposed to hazards to their health or safety.
2. Every self-employed person shall conduct his undertaking in such a manner as to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that he and other persons who may be directly affected by his activities are not thereby exposed to hazards to their health or safety.
Réhann Coetzee is a freelance journalist and director of the Think Bike safety awareness campaign. He has been riding motorcycles for more than 30 years.