Janice Green, President of the Jamaica Occupational Health and Safety Professionals Association (JOHSPA).
With commuters along the Mandela Highway in St Catherine spending up to four hours in traffic daily, medical and safety experts are concerned about the deleterious effect the congestion could be having on health and productivity.
Dr. Julio Leachman, general practitioner and medical officer in cardiothoracic surgery, says stress causes many harmful medical effects, which may be mental, emotional or physical.
“Stress can adversely affect your ability to maintain physical competence at work, home and otherwise, as it drains your energy. It impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving,” he outlined, noting that, “It also contributes to sleep loss. And, chronic sleep loss can put you at risk for heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes and also weight gain. Moreover, lack of sleep kills your sex drive; and, may overtime, contribute to symptoms of depression.”
Andrew Green, a resident of Spanish Town, says his travel time to and from home is exhaustive.
“I have adjusted my sleep and travel patterns,” he explains. “In the past two months, I leave home one hour earlier. That also forces me to eat breakfast and finish getting dressed on the way. Once I leave home by 5:45, I’ll reach work within an hour; but, any time later, it will be a two-hour journey.”
He points out that when he relocated from Kingston to St Catherine three years ago, one of his intentions was to save on accommodation cost, but that saving has not materialised.
“I take the Spanish Town and Portmore toll roads to and from work every day, simply to avoid Mandela, which costs me almost $15,000 monthly; therefore, what I save in rent goes to paying toll just to avoid traffic,” he discloses.
Authorn Chambers has a similar experience daily. He says he spends up to four hours in traffic on weekdays, travelling from home in Spanish Town, St Catherine, to his job in New Kingston and back. The distance between Spanish Town and Half-Way-Tree is 28 kilometres, a journey that should take about 40 minutes outside peak periods.
“I’m always drained by the time I arrive at work; and when I leave home or work, I have to mentally re-charge myself to deal with traffic. It’s agonizing,” he says.
“In the mornings, I take the Portmore Toll Road, but it does not make much difference, because there is still congestion, especially in the Three Miles area where road work is in progress. And, I drive on Mandela Highway in the evenings, because I cannot afford the toll, twice daily.”
He adds that the congestion issue is further compounded by the State of Emergency which is operative in the St. Catherine North Division, since March, in response to the crime situation.
President of the Jamaica Occupational Health and Safety Professionals Association (JOHSPA), and occupational health and safety officer at The Jamaica National Group, Janice Green, says in the workplace, employers may need to look at implementing stress recovery activities in order to maintain productivity levels.
“Persons constantly complain about the traffic, and despite the fact that many are leaving home much earlier than usual, the congestion remains an issue. Employees, therefore, arrive at work feeling exhausted and this impacts their productivity.”
“Having to commute daily in long vehicular traffic is a hazard,” she maintains, “Therefore, workplace health and safety promotions need to be more contemporary; and align itself to addressing new and emerging health and safety issues for employees.”
She says employers and employees can assist to reduce risky pre and post safety commuting attitude and behavior by implementing a mix of measures.
“Employers could consider observing the flexi work legislation and encouraging short breaks for employees to recharge. Employees could do deep breathing exercises while in traffic and at work, tackle high-priority tasks first, have lunch away from their desk, and get adequate sleep at nights,” she advised.
Beyond the direct health and workplace productivity issues linked to stress as a result of congestion, Dr Leachman says there are some dangerous spin offs, which must also be taken into consideration, such as sleep deprivation.
“It’s not uncommon for accidents to occur, as a result of drivers being sleep deprived, which may be related to the recent increase in the number of accidents along the busy Mandela Highway,” he stated.
Although not necessarily attributable to the number of crashes, the Mandela thoroughfare has experienced several incidents since the start of the year, which often add to congestion along the corridor. Road crashes in Jamaica impact severely on healthcare and productivity, with the 2017 Cost of Care Report indicating that it cost the country $12.6 billion to treat violence-related injuries, road crash injuries and attempted suicides in 2014.
“Strive to get six to eight hours of sleep and this will help to reduce stress levels,” Dr. Leachman recommends.