In this part of the world where our transportation system leaves much to be desired, motorcycles, commonly called okada, are a necessary evil.
This is not unconnected with the fact that they are a quick means of transport, they are efficient in mitigating traffic jams which most cities are renowned for, they get to areas which are ordinarily unmotorable and they are available throughout day and night hours. Since their introduction into the country and use for commercial purposes, they have continued to increase exponentially and based on this, the cases of motorcycle accidents have equally skyrocketed.
A visit to the Accident and Emergency wards of hospitals, especially teaching hospitals, in cities where okadas are still in operation, would attest to the fact that the occupational risk of this group of people should indeed be a source of concern. According to Dr Ademola Ajibade, a medical practitioner, “motorcycle injuries are among the leading causes of disability and deaths and the main victims are the motorcyclists, passengers and pedestrians in their young reproductive age group. In fact, motorcycle accidents are far more likely than other vehicular accidents. Motorcycle riders are the most vulnerable groups of road users.”
The reason for this may not be far-fetched. Motorcyclists, especially the young ones, tend to speed too much and overload their motorcycles for quick returns and they are usually reckless, undisciplined and have a lack of respect for other road users. Dr Ajibade adds that the majority of them don’t wear any protective gear, including helmets and this aggravates the risks of getting severe head injuries and even death in the event of an accident.
Saturday Tribune findings revealed that some of the reasons for non-compliance with the use of protective gear and the practice of safe road use among motorcycle riders included ignorance of the importance of the use of protective gear, a general disposition towards lawlessness, lack of education on proper road use and traffic laws, the cost of the gears as well as the abuse of drugs and use of alcohol.
Besides the obvious risk of accidents which motorcycle riders and their passengers are exposed to, there are other concerns that they should make conscious efforts to consider in order to enjoy optimal health at their occupation.
One health hazard associated with okada riding, especially for long periods at a time, is the exposure to pollutants, especially from their motorcycles and other vehicles on the road. According to experts, motorcycle riders are exposed to pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter in ambient air, and these may affect lung function. It has been discovered that the inhalation of these automobile pollutants can cause respiratory problems.
Moreover, extreme vibrations due to the performance of the motorcycle engine, improper structural design of the motorcycle (evident in the type of seating and type of suspension), bad road conditions, age of the motorcycle are also potential sources of health problems. Experts state that the human body can tolerate certain levels of vibrational energy but starts to deteriorate and cause long-term damage and disruption of the natural processes of the body at other levels of vibration. These vibrations are transmitted to the buttocks and back along the vertical axis via the base and back of the seat. On the other hand, the pedals and handle transmit additional vibrations to the feet and hands of the rider. During motorcycle riding, due to its unbalancing nature, it creates enormous vibration and affects the bioelectric phenomena.
A study of “Vibration and its effect on health of the motorcycle rider” published in the April-June 2010 edition of Online Journal of Health and Allied Sciences pointed out that at varying frequencies of vibrations, certain health effects can occur ranging from motion sickness, chest and abdominal pain, backache, intestine and bladder problems to degradation in visual functions. These vibrations are in the form of Hand Arm Vibrations and Whole Body Vibrations. Health effects that associated with Whole Body Vibration and especially the driving environment have been discovered to include piles, high blood pressure, kidney disorders and impotence.
Where vehicles provide protection against harsh weather conditions through the presence of windscreens, okadas lack such and as a result, their riders are exposed to extreme weather “They ride in the scorching sun, windy weather and sometimes even in the rain and most times, without the proper protective clothing. Protective gear do not stop at helmets. They also include high-visibility vests, boots, gloves. Not only are helmets supposed to protect the head in the case of accidents, they are also there to protect the face from the wind, flying objects and insects which could enter the eyes, nose or ears,” Dr Ajibade said.
Also importantly is the increased risk of reproductive problems. A Japanese study of 234 avid motorcyclists between the ages of 20 and 60 found significantly higher Erectile Dysfunction (ED) across all age ranges compared to a control group. Among bikers aged 50 to 59, 93 per cent had ED, compared to 42 per cent of the controls. A subsequent study of 150 Japanese motorcyclists by the same authors also found that not only was the rate of ED more than three times greater among motorcyclists than the control group, but there was a clear link between their ED and other lower urinary tract disorders. The likeliest culprit was constant vibration from both the engine and the road.
Physical strain is also an issue to grapple with. “The physical strain can cause problems with joints such as knees and wrists. When riding a motorcycle, the body position constricts regular blood flow to the feet, ankles and knees, depending on the type of bike design. This is why you sometimes notice swelling on the feet of okada riders who drive for long periods. Appropriate compression socks can help to improve leg circulation, lowering swelling while riding,” Dr. Irene Bassey, general practitioner at Orbitals Clinic, Lagos State, said.
Though they have been banned in some states, they still pose a significant health and safety risk in places where they are operational and moreso, where there is no insistent on the use of protective gear. According to Mr. Temiloluwa Gbarada, a health, safety and environment professional, “Whenever one is on an okada, the miracle is that one arrives at his place of destination in one piece. From a safety perspective, okadas, by default, are an accident waiting to happen.
In risk assessment safety standards, riding or being a passenger on an okada is way above the acceptable risk limit because it’s not balanced, there is no protective covering (like a windscreen) and because of their size, they are most often ignored by other vehicle users. If at all, it has to be used, then personal protective equipment like helmets and full body protective clothing (padded) should be worn.”