Occupational Injuries Among Boston Bicycle Messengers


Jack Dennerlein and John Meeker

Ergonomics and Safety Program
Department of Environmental Health
Harvard School of Public Health
665 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
6 February 2002


Alone in the big city Bicycle messengers have offered and continue to provide a unique and valuable service to urban businesses. Boston messengers collectively perform between 3000 - 4000 deliveries on a given business day and at a downtown tag (price of a single delivery) of about $7, the annual revenue of Boston courier services runs roughly five-million US dollars. Close proximity of bicycles and other traffic puts messengers at risk. Most messengers work as contractors and hence their injuries are not well documented.   Therefore, our goal was to simply document the injuries and injury rates of a set of urban bicycle couriers. 

filling out the survey One hundred thirteen (113) bicycle couriers within the City of Boston completed a two-page self-administered survey. The survey contained two parts.  The first asked for number of injuries and the severity of those injuries the messenger has incurred on the job. The second part asked messengers to describe their most severe or most recent (to minimize recall bias) injuries and the events leading to injury. 

Most working couriers have incurred an injury resulting in days away from work (70%) and in visits to a health-care professional or hospital (55%).  Annual incidence rates were large at 47 injuries resulting in days away from work per 100-bike couriers.  The national average is 3 lost-work injuries per 100 workers, with the highest rate at 15 lost-work injuries per 100 workers in the meat packing industry.  Bone fractures accounted for the most days away from work, followed by dislocations, sprains and strains.  

Avoiding collision with a pedestrian and double parked truck Collisions and avoiding collisions with motor vehicles, including being “doored,” and pedestrians accounted for the majority (66%) of events leading to injury.  This suggests the close proximity of other vehicles and pedestrians of the downtown environment may play an important role in the events leading to injury.

Road and weather conditions and bike features, such as a broken chain accounted for 16% and 11%, respectively, of the events leading to injury.  Cumulative trauma and assaults accounted for the remaining 7% of events.

While many messengers consider the occupation to contain moderate to high risk, only twenty-four percent of the messengers wear a helmet on a regular basis and 32% have health insurance. 

Table 1: 

 

Mean

Min

10th %

25th %

50th %

75th %

90th%

Max

Age (years)

27.6

17

22

24

27

30

33

49

Experience (years)

4.6

0.1

1.1

2.2

3.8

7.0

8.7

14

Deliveries per Day

28.5

10

20

24.8

30.0

35.0

40

50

Hours per Day

8.5

5

7

8.0

8.5

9.0

10

11

Hours per Week

40.3

20

32

37.0

40.0

45.0

50

55

11% of the bikers surveyed were women.

 

Table II.  Overall response and estimated incidence rates per 100 bicycle messengers.

 

% Positive response

# Events per year

Ever injured on the job?

90%

106

Injury caused days away from work

70%

47

Sought medical attention?

55%

31

Hospitalized due to injury?

27%

11

Close calls

90%

25,000

 


Publications

Dennerlein JT, Meeker J. (2002) Injuries among Boston Bicycle Messengers. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, In Press.

Acknowledgements

Harvard Injury Control Research Center

International Federation of Bicycle Messengers Associations

Ted Riederer of Breadrunner Courier Services

Thank you ted


Photo credits, Jack Dennerlein
Copyright, 2002,  President and Fellows of Harvard College