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La multiplication des services de livraison à vélo et les problèmes de santé et de sécurité des cyclistes commerciaux : élaboration de bonnes pratiques


Jobs that require the use of a bicycle have proliferated beyond merely delivery of envelopes and packages, becoming increasingly numerous. Among these jobs, the one that has increased the most in Montreal, and elsewhere, is home delivery of meals by bicycle. Other mobile services, moving, street vending and last kilometre logistics companies are also using bicycles as a means of transportation more frequently. However, the risks that commercial cyclists incur are not well known.

The objectives of the project were to study the growth in cycling jobs and the forms of work organization implemented; improve our understanding of road risks associated with bicycle work; and identify the various risk factors that can lead to accidents. Cases of accidents to cycling workers, their circumstances and unsafe situations experienced (near misses) are also explored. This information should make it possible to implement measures to prevent road accidents related to these jobs, identify best practices and consider how to support and enhance working conditions.

Three methodological approaches were used to meet the study’s objectives. First, a series of semi-structured interviews conducted with commercial cyclists helped to understand working conditions, perceived needs, unsafe experiences and accidents, and factors that could increase or reduce such incidents for this group of workers. Semi-structured interviews with employers (or clients) and entrepreneurs also shed light on the organizational factors affecting this work (although cyclists are often considered to be self-employed). Second, a survey was administered to commercial cyclists with the intent of understanding these workers’ characteristics, the risks related to their activities, the occurrence of accidents, their severity and their consequences. Protective and preventive measures were also addressed. Third, an exploratory measurement protocol that used watches equipped with a global positioning system (GPS) was then deployed with a subgroup of commercial cyclists to determine the exposure factors, such as working time, kilometrage, time spent on the road and speed.

Twenty-six interviews with commercial cyclists (22), employers (6) and entrepreneurs (8) in the Montreal area enabled us to develop a framework to identify risk factors for near collisions, collisions and injuries incurred by different kinds of commercial cyclists. The framework presents 21 individual characteristics and traits (experience, risky behaviour), types of tasks, working conditions, exposure levels and external factors that affect these workers’ health and safety. The interviews revealed that they all had different skills development backgrounds and benefited from different working conditions; they used different kinds of bikes and equipment and thus were exposed to different, and variable, risk levels. These risks varied based on various aspects of the job. Cyclists’ experience and employers’ promotion of safe practices are key protective factors, but the compensation structure may be the factor that is most likely to impact worker safety. Similarly, routes in crowded business districts at rush hour also present high risks of injury. The issue of personal health, including problems related to appropriate nutrition and those associated with chronic wear, also emerged as a frequent concern of these workers, whose energy consumption level is high.

According to the results of the survey of 228 participants, this work is the only source of income for 44% of workers (58% of couriers). The sample was composed mainly of self-employed people. Very few couriers or “other” workers (a category that amalgamates several professional services and small entrepreneurs) are unionized (9.4% and 6.2%). No form of unionization exists in food delivery. Wages are generally paid in the form of commission (53.8%). And 59% of delivery workers and 56.5% of couriers do not have any kind of accident insurance.

Although bruises were the most frequently mentioned injuries, 26 of the 208 respondents who answered this question said they had had a fractured limb and 18 had needed stitches since they started this work. An ambulance was needed 25 times, and 40 participants said they had had to take time off work. Almost 42% of the respondents reported an injury in the month preceding the survey (generally sprains, burns, bruises and inflammation). Most accidents were caused by the state of the roadway and other users’ behaviour (e.g., being cut off by vehicles). Participants stated that their own inattention and dooring were also frequent causes of incidents or accidents.

Almost 20% of workers never or almost never used a helmet, while fewer than 70% said they always wore one. Although wearing a helmet is not much of a constraint on the user, making a detour to travel more safely does seem to be more constraining and slows down the sequence of activities (and thus often their earnings). Only 28.5% of workers accepted such a detour; this rate is considerably lower among couriers.

The duration of work shifts of participants in the GPS protocol ranged from 2 to 9 hours. They travelled a mean 30 km per day (minimum 13.3; maximum 74.4) and made from 8 to 41 stops (mean 20 stops), half of which involved deliveries. Mean speed while travelling was 16.6 km/h, the distance of one travel leg was a mean 1.8 km (mean time 7 minutes) and stops lasted 10 minutes on average. In general, cyclists in this sample spend 36% of their shift riding on roads and being exposed to safety risks.

Since use of bicycles as work tools will probably increase over time, it is important to understand how the organization of work, regulation of the industry and worker and employer awareness could reduce the risks incurred by commercial cyclists. The dissemination of good practices that could reduce the burden of accidents related to this kind of work; industry regulation and the adoption of safety standards; and road infrastructures that take this kind of cyclist into account (not just bike paths intended for commuters) seem to be necessary to promote sound commercial cycling practices.


Additional Information

Category: Research Report
  • Ugo Lachapelle
  • David Carpentier Laberge
  • Marie-Soleil Cloutier
Research Project: 2015-0069
Online since: April 28, 2020
Format: Text