This week is Drive Safely Work Week. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of worker fatalities year after year, and distracted driving dramatically increases the risk of such crashes.
As a business owner or manager, it's your legal responsibility under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) to safeguard workers who drive as part of their job. This holds true whether your employees drive full-time or only occasionally to carry out their work, and whether they drive a company vehicle or their own.
Taking steps to keep your workers safe is not only required by law, but it may also avoid costly consequences. When OSHA receives a credible complaint that an employer requires texting while driving or organizes work so that texting is a practical necessity, it will investigate and issue citations and penalties where necessary to end this practice.
What is Distracted Driving?
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) website for distracted driving, Distraction.gov, distracted driving is any activity that could divert attention away from the primary task of driving, including:
- Using a cell phone or smartphone;
- Eating and drinking;
- Talking to passengers;
- Reading, including maps;
- Using a navigation system;
- Watching a video; and
- Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player.
Because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction.
What are an Employer's Responsibilities?
Companies are in violation of the OSH Act (and many state laws) if, by policy or practice, they:
- Require texting while driving;
- Create incentives that encourage or condone texting and driving; or
- Structure work so that texting while driving is a practical necessity for workers to carry out their jobs.
How Can Employers Discourage Distracted Driving?
OSHA advises employers to send a clear message to workers and supervisors that the company neither requires nor condones texting while driving. Specifically, employers should:
- Prohibit texting while driving. Employers should declare their vehicles "text-free zones" and emphasize that commitment to their workers, customers, and communities.
- Establish work procedures and rules that do not make it necessary for workers to text while driving in order to carry out their duties.
- Set up clear procedures, times, and places for drivers' safe use of texting and other technologies for communicating with managers, customers, and others.
- Incorporate safe communications practices into worker orientation and training.
- Eliminate financial and other incentive systems that encourage workers to text while driving.
What Else Can Employers Do?
The DOT offers the following tips for employers to combat distracted driving on (and off) the job:
- Order a free 2012 Drive Safely Work Week Toolkit from the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety for information on how businesses can raise awareness about traffic safety issues and discourage distracted driving among employees.
- Enact a company policy on distracted driving. You can start with the model policy available on Distraction.gov and customize it to your own needs.
- Hang up posters in the office to remind employees that "One Text or Call Could Wreck It All."
- Encourage employees to take--and share--the pledge. Distracted driving doesn't become less dangerous when the work day is over. Distribute pledge forms to your employees and urge them to share the forms with their friends and family.
A Note About Young Workers
When it comes to distracted driving, young people are among the most likely to text and talk behind the wheel. In light of this fact, OSHA reminds employers that youth are typically new to the world of work and the increased responsibilities and hazards they may encounter. For a variety of reasons, including developmental issues, incomplete perceptions about the presence of danger in various work situations can lead to certain risk-taking behaviors, including multitasking. Additionally, cell phone usage, particularly texting, is common among youth.
Since youth have an increased risk of danger due to a greater exposure to this hazard, employers should keep in mind that young workers have a need for increased guidance and protections.
And remember that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits workers under the age of 18 from working as a motor-vehicle driver or outside helper on any public road or highway, with an exception for 17 year-olds who drive automobiles and trucks on an incidental and occasional basis if certain criteria are met. For more information, see OSHA's Hazardous Order 2. And check your state labor office for additional restrictions on young workers who drive in your state.
For More Information
Distraction.gov offers a number of resources to help employers start their own campaign against distracted driving, including a sample memo to employees and a sample press release that employers can use in connection with their policy against distracted driving. You can also check out OSHA's Distracted Driving Page for more guidance on work-related driving distractions. Our Safety and Wellness section offers other helpful information on how to keep your employees safe.
And if you haven't done so already, why not download our free Federal Labor Laws by Company Size Chart? It's a great resource for staying on top of important federal laws that may apply to your business, including the OSH Act!
Image Credit: Lord Jim