Managing the risks of older drivers in your workplace

Engineer (40s) wearing hardhat and safety vest sitting in pickup truck.When it comes to Canada’s aging population, we often hear about how the silver tsunami threatens the sustainability of our health-care system. We don’t often hear about the implications of our aging population on driving. Like it or not, as we age, we become more physically fragile and may have medical conditions which affect our fitness to drive. If you are a business with drivers 55 and older, what are you doing to manage the risks associated with older drivers in your workplace?

Why you should pay attention to the needs of older drivers

Older workers bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to their roles and your business. Studies show they are more likely to adopt safe-driving behaviours such as wearing seat belts and obeying speed limits. However, when they are involved in a crash, they are more likely to die or be severely injured than younger workers. When injured, they take longer to recover than their younger counterparts.

What would it do to your business if you lost the services of an experienced worker for an extended period of time? It is not only in their best interests, it is in yours to accommodate the age-related changes of your workers so they can continue to contribute their expertise to your business.

Aging by the numbers

According to Statistics Canada, by 2021, nearly one person in four in the labour force (roughly 24 per cent) could be 55 years of age or over, the highest proportion on record.

Drivers over 60 represent the fastest growing segment of licenced drivers in BC. In 2010, 739,000 British Columbians aged 60 and older held drivers’ licences. By 2014, that number had jumped to 872,000, an 18 per cent increase.

Two helpful guides

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety offers a guide for businesses with older workers that answers basic questions such as the specific health and safety concerns related to older workers.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the United States offers a more fulsome overview of how aging affects driving ability and the steps employers and employees should take to prevent work-related crashes.

Both address the physical changes that occur in the aging process such as decreased flexibility, reduced vision and hearing as well as interrupted sleep, all of which can affect employees’ ability to drive.

The guides also suggest actions businesses can take to manage risks associated with older workers such as allowing work schedules that avoid night driving, conducting risk assessments that include aging factors and educating employees about taking medications that cause drowsiness.

Good reminders and suggestions

Both guides are short and worthwhile reads to stimulate your thinking about how you and your business can address the particular needs of your older workers.

These include evaluating your occupational health and safety controls such as supervision, training and educations as well as your wellness programs. More suggestions are listed below.

The fact is that unless we win the lottery or come into a big inheritance, most of us will be an older worker, some of us sooner than later.

Tips for preventing work-related crashes

NIOSH also suggests that employers follow these guidelines to manage their workforce drivers:

  • Develop policies that assign a key member of management responsibility for setting and enforcing a comprehensive driver safety policy.
  • Enforce seatbelt use.
  • Do not require irregular hours; keep workday hours normal.
  • Promote worker health and safety through diet, exercise and smoking cessation programs.
  • Assess driver ability through regular physical examinations.
  • Restrict driving based on assessment of ability and not on age or health alone.
  • If a worker's ability is affected temporarily, assign him or her to duties other than driving.
  • Provide refresher driver training and encourage older workers to attend.
  • Maintain complete and accurate records of drivers' performance.
  • Encourage familiar driving routes.

2 British Columbia Road Safety Strategy 2015 and Beyond, August 2013, pp. 15.
3 ICBC Quick Statistics, February 2016, page 25.

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Managing the risks of older drivers in your workplace