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January 19, 2018
Driving home the safety message for older workers

You know that older workers bring skills, experience, and a respect for the rules to the workplace. But what about the driving? According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “older drivers are more likely than their younger counterparts to adopt safe behaviors such as wearing a seatbelt and complying with speed limits.” However, NIOSH says those 55 and above are twice as likely to die in a work-related crash than other workers.

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Motor vehicle crashes account for 32 percent of all work-related deaths among workers 55 and older. A number of age-related conditions affect driving behavior. For example, diabetes, which can cause blood sugar levels to spike or drop, can cause sleepiness, dizziness, confusion, seizures, or loss of consciousness. Arthritis, which causes painful swollen joints, can limit movement of the shoulders, hands, head, and neck.

The following age-related changes can also affect driving ability:

  • Eyesight. Oder eyes need more light and more time to adjust when lighting changes. That makes it hard to see clearly at dawn, dusk, and at night. Peripheral vision can also decline with age, which increases driving risk. Eye diseases like cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration are more common with age. Those conditions can make it hard for older drivers to read signs and see colors.
  • Hearing. Age-related hearing loss makes it harder for drivers to hear horns, sirens, and noises from cars, warning of possible danger.
  • Motor skills. Skills considered essential for safe driving may decline with age. Examples are physical strength, range of motion, flexibility, and coordination.
  • Mental skills. Memory, attention span, judgment, and quick reaction times, all considered essential for safe driving, can diminish with age. As a result, older drivers can feel overwhelmed by signs, signals, vehicles, and pedestrians.

NIOSH recommends the following practices to address these and other risks to older drivers:

  • Require use of seat belts at all times for everyone in the vehicle.
  • Plan and manage travel. For example, permit employees to consult with supervisors or adjust their driving hours if they have trouble seeing at night.
  • Prevent distracted driving. Ban texting and use of handheld phones while employees are driving. Consider banning hands-free devices as well.
  • Prevent drowsy driving. Allow for breaks during the work shift. If employees are too tired, permit them to take a brief nap. Promote a work environment that reduces stress, which can affect sleep. Advise employees about sleep disorders and other conditions that can lead to sleepiness.
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