At present, both government bodies and employers are heavily promoting the use of bicycles for commuting purposes. There is, however, a downside to this: the number of accidents while commuting has grown, and the proportion of accidents involving bicycles has increased exponentially. What is the reason for this? And how can you, as an employer, take action?
A 2017 study by Vias (formerly the Belgian Institute for Traffic Safety) on cycling accidents in Brussels showed a significant rise in the number of accidents involving cyclists. The Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS) found that cycling deaths actually outstripped motoring deaths last year.
An analysis of accidents while commuting within our portfolio also shows that the number of cycling accidents has soared in recent years. We looked at concrete figures from a few of our larger company clients who are all insured with the same specialist accident-at-work insurer. Our sample included more than 15,000 employees.
The chart below shows that in our sample, the number of bicycle accidents doubled since 2013. This increase has occurred almost exclusively between 2016 and 2017. Furthermore, it is clear that the number of cycling accidents represents a larger percentage within the total number of commuter accidents. In 2013, this percentage was at 34%, while last year it was 43%.
This conclusion, based on our portfolio, has been confirmed by the accident-at-work insurers. Within the global portfolio, it is clear that the number of bicycle accidents grew by 25% between 2016 and 2017. This equates to an increase in costs for insurers of almost 30%.
More and more employees and companies are buying electric bikes for commuting purposes. Usage and the speed of these electric bikes is leading to a higher risk of accidents.
Axel De Lamper, Senior Product Manager Accident at Vanbreda Risk & Benefits: “Traditionally, when we talk about commuting by bicycle we think of a city bike or racing bike; however, it has chiefly been the e-bike and the electric bicycle that have been on the rise for the past three years in Flanders. This is not without hazard: motorised bicycles are more frequently involved in serious accidents while commuting. In 2017, we received the first reports of occupational accidents involving electric bikes. The victims of these accidents are more often unfit for work for long periods, which means that the costs of a cycling accident really mount up.”
There are various, or rather, consistent reasons underpinning this rise. Poor road surfaces, road construction works, and the lack of (good) cycling infrastructure are just a few examples. The condition of the bicycle and the behaviour and visibility of cyclists and other road users in traffic are also factors that are strongly influencing this increase. A opened car door is one of the most common reasons for a bicycle accident. Weather conditions such as black ice, rain and wind guarantee more accidents.
Many employers encourage commuting by bike and offer a bicycle allowance for it. Some companies go a step further and include bike leasing in their cafeteria plan. We have noticed, however, that in practice this change in mobility policy is not always supported by a suitable cycling policy.
We have previously signalled concern about the need for accident prevention on the journey to work (the full article is available here). Commuting cyclists − all too often forgotten − deserve extra attention in this regard.
Both the employee and the employer benefit from limiting the number of cycling accidents on the journey to work. While it is the victim who is harmed above all, the employer is also disadvantaged by this type of accident. The costs of the accident, the potential need to find a substitute, and the impact on claim statistics can all be major. Moreover, the premium for the occupational accident policy is borne in full by the employer. Considering the upsurge in cycling accident numbers, employers therefore have a financial interest in better protecting their employees.
Make it a top priority to raise employee awareness of bicycle safety. We advise you to: outline a cycling policy; organise a ‘safe cycling’ course (whether or not via e-learning); offer bicycle checks and repairs at work; contact the government with reports of unsafe traffic situations; and provide facilities for cyclists (e.g. good lighting, an enclosed bike shed, showers and changing rooms).
Vanbreda helps employers who have seen a rise in accidents while commuting appraise the problem areas and establish a concrete plan. It is also worth examining the cycling policy in order to establish associated prevention measures.