South African road accidents in the construction sector are increasing, according to insurance company Federated Employers Mutual (FEM) MD Thelma Pugh and industry body Master Builders Association North (MBA North) construction health and safety manager Doug Michell.
FEM, which deals with medical and other work-related injury claims, analyses national and international statistics to perform accurate risk assessments for policyholders. “South Africa considers itself to be a First World country in the construction industry, so people would expect the country’s statistics to be in line with those of other First World countries,” says FEM, adding that this is sadly not the case.
“We assess road deaths as fatalities per 100 000 people. In countries such as Australia and the UK, there are between 5 and 12 fatalities per 100 000. South Africa, which is at 33 fatalities per 100 000, is on par with the rest of Africa, which is between 32 and 38 per 100 000. South Africa considers itself to be a little more developed than the rest of Africa,” says Pugh, but South Africa is on par with war-torn countries such as Iraq (38 per 100 000) and Iran (39 per 100 000).
“Many people question why we should be concerned with the state of safety on our roads, but accidents affect everyone and every industry,” says Michell, high- lighting that South Africans are generally apathetic about the alarming number of road incidents and fatalities.
Both organisations note that losing people on the way to and from work results in a loss of skilled labour in various sectors and industries.
“South Africa’s motor vehicle accidents have doubled in the last 13 years and so have the resulting fatalities,” Pugh adds.
FEM also provides insurance for work-related injuries and notes that injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents are becoming more serious than in the past, owing to reckless driving, poor vehicle maintenance and overloading vehicles with passengers.
Meanwhile, the MBA North highlights that it is working on a campaign to reduce road fatalities. “The campaign is in the embryo stage,” says Michell, adding that the MBA is considering innovative ideas for the reduction of road incidents.
“We have to become proactive and realise that it is a problem that affects us all,” he says, adding that posters and banners have, in the past, been displayed and pamphlets have been handed out at traffic lights, but road accident statistics are not improving.
“The MBA North is questioning the mindset and culture in South Africa that make it acceptable to have so many road incidents,” he says.
“Currently, we have a construction health and safety meeting every two months, which forms part of the campaign. We use these meetings as a platform to share information and brainstorm problems from different angles,” says Michell.
The MBA North has had tyre manufacturer and supplier Continental deliver a presentation on the importance of tyre safety at one of these meetings.
“At the next meeting, car brake manu- facturers will speak on the importance of regularly checking and replacing brakes in vehicles,” he says.
“We invite car suppliers to the meeting so that we can provide a holistic approach for people working in the construction industry and health and safety, as well as construction managers,” says Michell, adding that the MBA North expects attendees to share the information and insight they have gained at these meetings with others in their companies.
The awareness campaign aims to communicate the importance of road safety in a complex South African cultural context. “The MBA North feels that one of the biggest reasons for the high inci- dence rates is the general lack of interest of people and a lack of collective under- standing and effort,” he says.
Both organisations describe the current driving culture in South Africa as unacceptable.
Pugh highlights that one of the biggest reasons for fatalities, specifically in the construction industry, is the general lawlessness of drivers on South African roads. “Total disregard for the law has killed several flagmen who work on the roadside and have been victim to irate drivers,” she adds.
Further, Pugh notes that road incidents are costly, with many subsequent indirect costs. “Policyholders will note an increase in premiums and the shortage in skills is exacerbated every time an accident or fatality occurs,” says Pugh.
FEM deals with the claims of about 500 road accidents a year, with claims coming in daily. “These figures should prove the severity of the poor state of driving and the poor quality of roads in South Africa,” she adds.
FEM notes that road accident figures are similar throughout the country’s provinces. “South Africa’s driving culture has a major influence on the number of road accidents,” says Pugh.
Further, Michell notes that the more technologically advanced cars become, the more accidents occur. “The complicated new systems some vehicles are equipped with appear to reduce people’s responsibility for controlling a vehicle,” he says, adding that, without the proper training, drivers often misuse a vehicle and cause accidents.
The MBA North is encouraging companies to properly train their drivers and has, therefore, joined forces with risk assess- ment driving company Thabo Training Services, in Gauteng, says Michell.
The MBA North became aware of Thabo Training Services through its own skills department. “Thabo has a different approach to defensive driving and prefers risk assessment driving, where people are taught not only about driving but also about the consequences of the choices they make when driving,” says Michell, adding that there is currently no formal agreement between the MBA North and Thabo Training Services.
Factors Affecting Road Safety
The MBA North and FEM note that the legal enforcement of vehicle-related limitations that should not be trans- gressed, such as the load carried by a vehicle, the distance over which a driver brakes, intoxication, vehicle mainte- nance, management and age, as well as how drivers respond to distractions, are all factors that affect the likelihood of an accident.
Both organisations point out that the use of cellphones while driving has become a major concern. “A driver who answers a cellphone while operating a vehicle, at the instruction of his or her superior, is at a higher risk of being involved in an accident,” says Michell.
“Statistically, text messaging causes more fatalities than drinking and driving,” says Pugh.
FEM conducted an audit on all motor vehicle accidents and found that there were fewer accidents involving adults aged between 40 and 55, while most accidents are caused by people aged between 25 and 35, as people in this age group are more inclined to take risks,” she says.
“We have tried to disseminate this information so that our policyholders can understand that people between 25 and 35 are at a higher risk,” says Pugh, adding that FEM and the MBA North try to deliver this information to the public to create awareness and, more importantly, prevent future accidents.
Meanwhile, both companies note improvements in health and safety on construction sites, owing to the correct use of personal protective equipment and scaffolding, but that not enough attention is being paid to health and safety on the roads.
“I do not think I have ever seen a vehicle being pulled over because it is overloaded,” says Pugh, adding that, in theory, the driver is breaking the law.
FEM highlights that it may treble premiums to penalise companies claiming for accidents when too many people have been allowed in a vehicle at one time.
“We lack public transport,” says Pugh, and, therefore, workers will share one means of transport if it means that they can get to and from work on time.
The MBA North and FEM employees should be educated by employers to take responsibility for their own lives.
Further, Michell notes that HIV/Aids has reduced the number of more experienced, older drivers in the transport industry, leaving the younger inexpe- rienced drivers to take up this responsibility. Therefore, the disease has also contributed to the increase in road accidents,” he says.
Both organisations highlight that a large number of drivers’ licences in South Africa are forgeries or have been obtained illegally, leading to a substantial number of drivers on the road not being properly qualified. “It is vital that a driver is competent and abides by the law and that proper regulation and maintenance are performed on vehicles and roads,” says Michell, adding that roadworks in South Africa are another contributor to accidents.
FEM highlights that incentivising health and safety compliance needs to be considered by companies. Pugh says that one of FEM’s policyholders has implemented an incentive system, where employees are given free lunches if they have not been involved in an accident for a certain period.
“We expect management in companies to start participating more in health and safety compliance training, which will encourage employees to follow suit,” says Michell, highlighting that the MBA North believes that health and safety initiatives should first be targeted at management level.