September for safety – Safetember

September for safety – Safetember

The 2014 safety statistics, recently released by The Federated Employers’ Mutual Assurance Company (FEM), reveal a shocking surge in motor-vehicle accident (MVA) fatalities in the construction industry – making up 48 percent of the total fatalities for this sector. All hope isn’t lost, however …

“This figure is a shock for the construction industry as a whole,” says FEM MD Thelma Pugh. “And most, if not all, of these so-called ‘accidents’ are avoidable.”

She adds that there are many contributory reasons, such as an increase in traffic volume and the lawlessness on our roads, but the majority of these accidents could have been avoided.

They were caused by: overloading (which leads to loss of control or obscures the driver’s vision), un-roadworthy vehicles (including failure of tyres, brakes or indicators), drunk or reckless drivers (of the company vehicle) and no signage or barriers at traffic control points.

The frequency of MVAs has, unfortunately, been increasing in recent years.

An audit of MVA accidents revealed some intersting facts:

The majority of the accidents involved drivers in the 20 to 30 year age group, with the fewest recorded in the 40 to 50 year age group.

The average cost of an MVA claim is more than double that of a non-MVA claim. The majority of the accidents took place on public roads; very few of the accidents involved pedestrians.

In one MVA case study, a 38-year-old casual labourer, hired by a road works company, was hit by a speeding minibus taxi while removing the road-closure signs. The grievances included burns on his face, arms and back and spinal injuries.

“The employee spent five months in hospital and had to undergo extensive skin grafts,” Pugh points out. Sadly, he will never walk again.

The hospital costs were R502 268; medical costs R26 230; the capitalised value of pension R340 635; and the total cost of the claim to date R886 383. His loss and the lives lost can’t be summarised in figures however …

“FEM and its partners have initiated an awareness programme designed to encourage organisations to enhance the skills of their drivers and to create a culture of road safety to ensure that their workers, and all those who drive vehicles, remain safe on our roads,” continues Pugh.

A team, comprising top management from FEM, health and safety specialists from the South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors and Master Builders Association, is working in close collaboration on the development of this programme.

“It is the combined intention to encourage organisations to take construction health and safety awareness – with particular emphasis on defensive driver training – to a new level and to keep it there, thereby significantly reducing these events over the next 24 months, if not sooner,” says Pugh.

It is generally acknowledged by those active in the construction sector that many MVA fatalities are as a result of workers being transported (often to and from the construction site) on open trucks or bakkies, which then become involved in accidents.

“It was noted that there were several cases where a single accident injured more than 25 people and of 30 accidents registered there were 73 people injured.”

Other driver-related aspects to be addressed through the programme will include: substance abuse; sharing of information; sub-contractor safety; driving habits and advisories; and elimination of cellphone usage when driving – texting in particular.

The programme, dubbed “Safetember”, was communicated across a wide range of media, functions and events, and hinged around encouraging organisations to use driver training and awareness. Captains of industry and exemplary companies were also invited to publicly pledge their support and commitment to the programme.

“We’ve also sent many of our employees on advanced driving courses and we want to spill this down to every driver in the organisation,” Pugh points out.

FEM has also restructured its prizes at exhibitions such as Noshcon, where it is giving away defensive driving courses and car first-aid kits instead of iPads or TVs. “We are trying these initiatives to create awareness and make a difference in the industry,” Says Pugh.

Development of Safetember is presently in its embryonic stage, but it will certainly grow into a wonderful programme that will keep many safe on our roads.

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