THE National Safe Commuting to Work 2012 Campaign was launched on Monday in response to the rise in commuting accidents. The 24,809 cases reported last year represented a 13 per cent increase over the previous year. More than half of the victims were aged 35 years and below and most of them rode motorcycles to work in factories and service industries.
Like any road safety issue, a key part of the solution is to raise awareness. Undoubtedly, such a campaign can help to make the journey to and from work safer. It's certainly no accident that the rate of workplace disabilities and deaths have dropped over the past 10 years. It has been the result of conscious efforts to address the problems of occupational health and safety.
But even when they don't get injured or die on the roads, the journey to work exacts a toll in other ways. Studies suggest that the longer people have to commute to work, the more they worry, the more miserable they feel, and the more likely they are to suffer from obesity and high blood pressure. What causes their stress levels to shoot up and their productivity and morale to fall is being stuck in traffic jams, crowded buses and cramped trains during the rush hour, or having to pick up children, buy dinner and shop on the way home. Indeed, in Malaysia, as in many other countries, few workers live close enough to their place of work to walk or cycle. As a result, they have no choice but to drive a car, ride a motorcycle or take the bus, commuter train or light rail to work. According to one survey, Malaysians typically spend at least one hour commuting.
It would, of course, be ideal if homes and workplaces could be closer together to reduce commute times. But that's not going to happen. What certainly can be done, and is happening now, is to improve the efficiency of transport and traffic through bus-only lanes, park-and-ride lots, mass transit systems, and better integrated bus, light rail and commuter train connections. But while making public transport more affordable, reliable, and comfortable eases the gridlock on the roads, it still means a lot of time spent on travelling and less time for family, leisure and other pursuits. For this reason, there is a need to look at other ways of reducing the damaging effects of long commutes on health, well-being and productivity. Now that broadband Internet access is widely available, this should certainly include working from home online, or telecommuting.