Article By: Art Brown, AWARE-NS Safety Collaborator
A growing industry in Nova Scotia is home health care. With an aging population, more and more extended care services are being provided in the home environment. Driving to and from clients homes or different workplaces is a necessary task that can be full of hazards that both employers and workers need to control.
Your car, as with every home your enter, is considered a workplace. Your employer will have taken steps to ensure your safety while working in the community but while driving you have the greater degree of control. You must comply not only with the requirements of the NS Motor Vehicle Act but the NS Occupational Health & Safety Act as well. Ensure your Driver’s License, Vehicle Permit and proof of insurance are valid – this is your responsibility. The police do traffic checks for a reason.

Safety Tip #1: Plan the day even though you are familiar with the community.

Planning your route can reduce stress, especially if it means avoiding a 20 minute road construction delay. Always be sure that someone knows where you are. Having the phone GPS function turned on is important if an emergency occurs and you need to be found. Inspect your equipment and restock supplies for the next day when you get home after work and not minutes before leaving the house. So many times we forget something important because of running to catch the garbage truck, rushing kids to the bus or sleeping through the alarm. Be sure to do a few stretches before leaving the house to get your muscles limbered up. You’re going to be in your car a lot and this will go a long way to make driving more comfortable and ready you for the physical requirements of the job when you reach the client. Always carry a first aid / emergency kit and in winter conditions dress appropriately, including proper footwear. Be sure to keep a warm blanket with your gear in case of a breakdown or getting stuck in a snow bank.

Safety Tip #2: Be sure to inspect your car each morning to ensure everything is working.

It is a requirement of law that your vehicle is safe while on the road. Tires need to be rotated every 5,000 to 10,000 km so capitalize on the garage hoist time and have a quick unofficial inspection done. In Nova Scotia cars need to be inspected by a licensed mechanic every 2 years – that sticker on the bottom left of your windshield. Any car over 4 years old will need regular inspections to catch worn brakes, suspension or steering parts before they become a safety hazard and an expensive repair. Be smart – inspect for safety and your pocket book. A blown light bulb may result in a costly ticket.

Safety Tip #3: Check your gear and ensure it is properly stowed in the car.

An emergency stop can result in damage to expensive equipment. Loose items in the car can also become projectiles in an emergency stop. Always use the trunk for computers, medical bags or other loose gear – this can be a good deterrent for thieves and limits your temptation to use the equipment while driving. Also, keep a charger in the car for those times you forget to recharge. Other items for the trunk include the emergency kit and clothing from safety tip #1.

Safety Tip #4: Be aware of road and weather conditions when in your car.

The weather forecast changes on an hourly basis in Nova Scotia. What you saw in the morning forecast before you headed out the door, could change at a moment’s notice. Here are a few ways to stay on top of weather and road conditions. Call the provincial highway condition hotline – 511 for current conditions. Put a weather app on your cell phone or tablet – The Weather Network and Global News Weather are both excellent apps for hourly updates and future-casts. You can also tune into your local radio station while driving for updates. Do not drive in weather conditions that may put you or other’s in danger AND always drive at a safe speed appropriate for road conditions. SUV’s handle better than cars in snow and on ice but they can take more time to stop. Speed just increases the hazard, and remember, you can lose your license for speeding infractions in Nova Scotia – even on the first offense.

Safety Tip #5: No Use Of Mobile Devices When Driving.

The law allows you to answer and talk using a hands free device. However, this action does divert some of your attention from the road so use caution. Just remember the more intensive the conversation the less attention you are paying to the road in front of you. It would be wise to not use any hands free or mobile device when driving in bad weather, heavy traffic , school zones or any other situation where your full attention is needed for driving. Don’t tempt fate and always drive defensively. Plan to take breaks throughout the day to collect your messages, check the weather and road conditions, return phone calls and do your administrative work.

Safety Tip #6: When you arrive at your destination do a scene survey looking for possible hazards.

Note snow covered and or icy walkways, rough and uneven paved driveways and walkways, broken steps and railings, loose pets or farm animals. Prepare and set up an escape route and always back in to be ready for a quick exit. Be sure to place your car keys in a location that can be quickly accessed – on your person at all times is preferred. Take a minute to review the client files before leaving the car. This allows you to get familiar with the client and also see what animals come to investigate your arrival. As you exit the car remember you are transferring from one workplace to another with new hazards needing to be assessed. However, that’s for another day.
What are your tips and strategies to stay safe behind the wheel? Post them here!

About The Author:

Arthur Brown is an accomplished safety professional experienced in the multi-jurisdictional industries of Health, Manufacturing and Transportation. He has been a manager in industry, Inspector Specialist enforcing the Nova Scotia Occupational Health & Safety Act and is currently a Workplace Consultant with the Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia coaching industry leaders on safety excellence.