Workplace accident prevention: Cycling to work, but safely!
Employee health Promote as an employer entity and at the same time prevent risks for accident-related absences
Reading time: 6 minutes
Some are currently talking about a real bike hype. In any case, pedaling is the order of the day and is in keeping with the spirit of the times. The reasons are obvious: Cycling is healthy,it reduces the burden on the environment and the cyclists’ wallets. On the other hand, road traffic poses not inconsiderable accident risks and thus also the risk of lost working hours due to injury. Read the article to find out what bicycle-friendly companies can do to motivate their employees to commute by bike and thus benefit from the health-promoting benefits and to prevent accidents at the workplace.
In an online survey (n=2.211), in response to the question “How often do you cycle to your work place?” around 21 % stated, to regularly use a bicycle to get to work. (Statista; 2022). Germany also compares relatively well in Europe. In France, Great Britain or Spain, commuting to work by bicycle is less popular. No reason to sit back, because our neighbors in the Netherlands are showing what is possible and are thus promoting the Employee Health. They have a 36 % commuting rate to get to work by bike (Statista; 2022).
This is how healthy cycling really is
Cycling is a proven way to counteract physical inactivity. People who drive to work generally do not want to sweat, which is why the load intensity can be described as moderate. The scientific classification for this is provided by the researcher Barbara E. Ainsworth from Arizona State University: For this purpose, she has rated numerous everyday and sports activities via the metabolic equivalent (MET) in the Compendium of Physical Activities. “Bicycling, to/from work, self selected pace” is rated there with 6.8 MET and is thus in the midfield (walking 3 MET, running > 10 MET). 500 MET minutes equals the recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Converted, this would mean5 days a week, about 15 min commute to work by bike. Doable, right? These even short travel distances of 3-5 km are sufficient to cause a significant increase in fitness in previously inactive subjects.
Cycling is thus considered very healthy. There is also an urgent need for this: 44 % of adult women and 40 % of men in Germany are considered to be sedentary, measured by the official benchmark of the World Health Organization (WHO). This advocates a minimum amount of exercise for health maintenance of 150 min of moderate or 75 min of intense aerobic activity per week. With regard to widespread diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer or type 2 diabetes mellitus, the lack of exercise as a risk factor plays without a doubt in the same league as smoking, high blood pressure or obesity. Cycling prevents lack of exercise, ensures fresh air – a healthymix. One simple option to address the problem of physical inactivity and its health consequences is to incorporate more physical activity into our daily routines, for example, by cycling to work. Commuting by bicycle is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and mortality from all causes (Celis-Morales et al., 2017). Incidentally, a longer commute to work by bicycle is associated with a higher subjective health status and a lower body mass index (Echeverría et al. 2022). The morning commute to work is also the source of the good mood through the release of happiness hormones such as serotonin. Pedaling on a bike thus increases the well-being of employees and is the optimal ingredient for a relaxed and cheerful start to the workday.
Risks for bicycle accidents
Facts and figures
The total number of bicycle accidents has increased in recent years. This is largely due to the growing popularity of pedelecs. In 2021, there were 17.285 reported pedelec accidents with personal injury, compared to 2014 of only 2.245. In the case of non-motorized bicycles, the number of accidents involving personal injury fell from 76.643 to 67.931 over the same period. From a seasonal perspective, it should be noted that the cycling season has become longer and less pronounced only in the summer months. On weekdays there are more bicycle accidents than on the weekend. Pedelec accidents are more likely to be fatal than non-powered bicycles (7,6 fatalities vs. 3,5 fatalities per 1.000 accidents).
What are typical reasons for bicycle accidents?
There are a number of possible causes for an accident involving a bicyclist. The spectrum ranges from lack of experience, low attentiveness via incorrect assessment of a risky situation up to overconfidence.. The parties responsible for the accident can all be road users. Classic examples are cyclists disregarding the right of way, using bike lanes in the wrong direction, or running red lights. Drivers, on the other hand, are not attentive when turning and overlook cyclists. The sudden opening of car doors is also typical. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, incorrect road use, inappropriate speed and mistakes when turning are the most common errors committed by cyclists in bicycle accidents with personal injury (2020). Based on these facts, it can be assumed that cyclists have an increased need for safety.
Bicycle accidents in the professional context
As in the case of an occupational accident during working hours, the following also applies in the case of a commuting accident the protection of the statutory accident insurance and it must therefore be reported to the employers’ liability insurance association or accident insurance fund. An accident on the way to or from work occurs if the employee suffers an accident on the way to or from his place of work. In certain cases, employees are also covered if they take a detour (e.g. taking a child to daycare, carpooling, traffic jams). According to data from the German Social Accident Insurance, 128.029 reportable commuting accidents occurred between 2016 and 2020 involving bicycles, which is equivalent to almost ¼ of all commuting accidents (passenger cars, public transport, motorcycles, electrically powered small vehicles, bicycles, walking). Bicyclists are relatively “unprotected” on the road, which means that there are more frequent severe bicycle accidents. The consequences for the employee involved in the accident range from physical damage via psychological stress up to to financial losses in the event of long-term incapacity for work. For the company, the possible loss of working hours has an economic impact: continued payment of wages, training of replacement personnel and overtime for permanent staff are just a few examples.
Do the health benefits of cycling outweigh their risks?
On the one hand, regular physical activity through cycling is considered healthyamong other things by reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, there is an increased inhaled air pollution dose in cyclists. And the risk of being in a traffic accident (injury or fatal) is also increased for bicyclists.
Hartog et al. (2010) evaluated in their study “Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks?” health advantages and disadvantages of cycling. To do this, they summarized the literature on air pollution, traffic accidents, and physical activity using systematic reviews and supplemented them with recent key studies. Impacts on total mortality were then quantified for the scenario if 500.000 people in the Netherlands switched from cars to bicycles for short trips every day. Effects on mortality were expressed in years of life gained or lost. For people who switch from car to bicycle, the positive effects of increased physical activity estimated to be much higher (3-14 months gained) than the potential mortality effects of increased inhaled air pollution doses (0.8-40 days lost) and increases in traffic accidents (5-9 days lost). The societal benefits are even greater, with modest reductions in air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and traffic accidents.
Health risks associated with higher exposure to air pollutants and an increased risk of accidents on busy roads, especially in large cities, cannot significantly reduce the health-promoting effect of bicycle mobility according to the current state of research.
In addition, the results of a Dutch research study should be mentioned, which analyzed the relationship between cycling in commuter traffic and absenteeism due to illness, as well as the possible dose-response relationship between absenteeism and distance, frequency, and speed of cycling in commuter traffic. The mean total duration of absenteeism was more than one day shorter for cyclists than for non-cyclists.. Compared to people who cycle a short distance (< or = 5 km) three times a week, people who cycle more frequently and longer distances are absent on fewer days on average. Riding a bike to work is associated with less absenteeism. The more often people bike to work and the longer the distance traveled, the less likely they are to call in sick (Hendriksen et al., 2010).
What can employers do to prevent accidents among cyclists?
Offer your employees:
- Seasonal Safety checks (mobile workshop service) for bicycles or service contract with bicycle stores for maintenance
- Company bikes that you lease (incl. maintenance)
- Discounts in bike shops or bike online stores
- Secure parking facilities for bicycles at the place of work (roofing)
- Professional cycling training for road safety
- Information/ Communication or seasonal focus actions on safe cycling
(e.g. lighting & visibility in fall).
Further useful suggestions can be found in the handbook “Bicycle-friendly employer” – an initiative of the EU and the ADFC.
Although employees have no authority to issue instructions regarding their commute to work, the analysis of commuting accidents is another possible preventive approach. If, for example, the organizational framework (e.g. permanent time pressure because daycare opening times and work start times collide) was the trigger for possible misconduct in traffic, the corresponding adjusting screws can also be turned by the employer in order to reduce accident risks.
Outlook: Cycling to work initially sounds like one of many activity campaigns/initiatives. The bicycle is actually an increasingly popular mode of transportation when it comes to commuting to and from work. Contemporary – since climate-friendly, uncomplicated – since no parking problems, cost-effective – since driving without fuel and above all: HEALTHY! It is not without reason that leased CompanyBikes & everything to do with bikes (e.g. equipment like helmets) are now very popular as an Employee Benefit in terms of Employer Branding . To be a bicycle friendly company is actually more must-have than nice-to-have. Placing cycling initially with a team challenge in the company can be a motivating starting point that will pay off for you in many ways in the future. For employees, the bicycle combines useful with pleasant. With the YAS.beneFit app from YAS.life this topic can be combined with tax benefits within the framework of company health insurance.
About the author
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- Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad-Club e. V.: Handbook of bicycle-friendly employers. Last accessed 07.12.22 at: https://www.fahrradfreundlicher-arbeitgeber.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Handbuch-Fahrradfreundlicher-Arbeitgeber.pdf
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