High injury rate under-reported for food delivery cyclists

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Sunday, 5 June, 2022 - 12:30
Industry news
National News

Food delivery cyclists are being injured at much higher numbers than official reports show, according to a Macquarie University study that used hospital records to try to uncover the real extent of delivery-related cycling injuries in these gig economy workers.

SafeWork NSW reported 37 pedal cycling injuries associated with commercial delivery in 2019-2020 state-wide – but a pilot study in just one Sydney hospital emergency department over a similar period by researchers at Macquarie University and St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney identified at least 43 cycling-related injuries.

“Safe Work NSW uses police and workers’ compensation records to identify injuries to food delivery riders, but our research shows that this data is substantially lower than the real number of cycling-related injuries,” said Dr Mitchell Sarkies, a research fellow at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation at Macquarie University and lead author of the study which was published in the biomedical journal Pilot and Feasibility Studies.

The researchers analysed medical records for all 386 adults treated for cycling-related injuries at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney emergency department between May 2019 and April 2020, comparing commercial versus non-commercial cyclists.

“For 172 of these records, 46 per cent, we couldn’t confirm their work status; but of the remaining records, we were able to identify 43 (12 per cent) commercial delivery cyclists and 153 (42 per cent) non-commercial cyclists,” said Dr Sarkies.

“We know from other road safety research that you’re more likely to make mistakes when you’re under pressure,” said Dr Sarkies, who noted commercial cyclists were 13 times more likely than non-commercial cyclists to present to the emergency department between 8 pm and midnight than the early hours of the morning, suggesting these injuries occurred during the busiest evening meal delivery times.

“We noticed anecdotally in several cases, workers were injured, perhaps from crashing or coming off their bike, but they kept delivering to the end of their shift before going to the emergency department and discovering they had a concussion or fracture,” said Dr Sarkies.

Most injured cyclists (commercial and non-commercial) were male, with delivery cyclists more likely to be younger, and 11 times more likely to have a primary language other than English.

Most non-commercial cyclist injuries were funded by Medicare, but over a quarter of the commercial cyclists’ ED presentations (26 per cent) were not eligible for Medicare, and a further 37 per cent of commercial cyclists’ treatment was funded by compulsory third-party insurance schemes where a motor vehicle was involved.

“These figures support previous claims that suggest most commercial delivery cyclists are temporary migrants in Australia,” Dr Sarkies said.

Food delivery cyclists are typically engaged as independent contractors responsible for their own work-related costs, including insurance.

“This just shifts the cost of treating these injuries away from the workers’ compensation scheme, sometimes to compulsory third-party motor vehicle insurance if that applies, or the hospital would just bear the costs of treating patients who weren’t covered by Medicare,” said Dr Sarkies.

“It is likely that there are similar numbers of cyclist injuries presenting across other major Sydney hospitals, so further research is needed to confirm the real extent of injury to delivery cyclists.”