Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Minimising risk

A report on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's website begins by saying "A woman died Tuesday morning when her bicycle collided with a car door". Read a little further and you see that that is not what happened at all. The door was opened in her path.

I remember a similar story in German about 20 years ago. A woman was knocked off her bike by a car door being opened. Her young child, who was in the child seat on the back of her bike, was killed by a passing truck.

We can all tell stories of doors being flung open into our path. Many of us avoid or reduce the risk by riding further to the right, sometimes outside of the (very narrow) bike lane. The lanes are useless.

If a person is injured at work because of a faulty system, the employer can be prosecuted and fined a lot of money. They are then expected to take measures to reduce the risk of the same type of incident occurring again. For example, recently an employer was fined $33,750. A 57-year-old employee suffered concussion and deep tissue damage to his neck and back when the ladder he was standing on broke while he was unslinging a load of steel tubing that had been placed in a stillage located on a rack. The company was prosecuted because it failed to ensure a designated area was marked and used for loading and unloading tubing from stillages at ground level, and to prevent employees from using ladders to reach stillages and/or sling tubes instead of moving the stillages to ground level.

Read that again, fined $33,750 because it failed to prevent its employees from using ladders instead of bringing things down to ground level. And rightly so you might say. Employers should do everything they can to ensure their employees are safe. I totally agree but somehow those types of rule do not seem to apply to cyclists. There are sources of serious danger all over the place that could be minimised with proper design. Instead of a bit of thought and money being put into these things, cyclists are just expected to fend for themselves.

When you're dealing with occupational health and safety, the guidelines are always the same. Once you have identified the risk, there is a heirarchy of measures you use to deal with it. You ask yourselves the following questions:

1. Can we eliminate the hazard? If no:
2. Can we substitute the hazard? If no:
3. Can we use engineering controls? If no:
4. Can we use administrative controls (Safe systems of work, permits, signage)? If no:
5. Can we use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?

The third is the most obvious. Using engineering controls means designing a system that does not put cyclists in a position where every single parked car they pass is potentially going to knock them over into the path of traffic. In this country, we have gone straight to the fifth. We've got the fluoro vests and helmets but they're what you do when the other more effective ways of reducing danger are impossible. Are they impossible? Didn't think so.

I fear this sort of thing will keep happening.

(Picture from an article in the Courier Mail on the same subject)

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