Are Your Employees Distracted to Death? Strategies For Reducing Vehicle Fatalities

cell-phoneOur Apps may be killing us; at least that is the gist of an article in the New York Times about the relationship between phone Apps and traffic fatalities.   For example, in Tampa last month, a teenage girl was using Snapchat to video the driver of the car she was in as he wound the car up to 115 MPH.  A moment later, he lost control of the car.  The driver, the girl and three people in the minivan they hit all died.

It is part of a larger hazard, distracted driving, and officials say the problem had reversed four decades of improvement in highway fatalities.   According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the first six months of 2016, highway deaths jumped to 17,775, an increase of more than 10 percent, as compared to the first six months of 2015.  The culprit – all of the information sources, screens,gadgets,  and gizmos vying for our attention.  The head of the agency calls it a crisis that needs to be addressed.

There is no question that workplace distracted driving needs to be addressed.   First, driving incidents are a major cause of injuries.  For industries like oil and gas, vehicle incidents are the leading cause of fatalities.   Distracted driving prevention needs to be a part of any effective safety program.

Companies also need to recognize that OSHA considers distracted driving to be a compliance issue.   In 2010,  the head of OSHA wrote an open letter to industry, saying “It is your responsibility and legal obligation to have a clear, unequivocal and enforced policy against texting while driving.”

The same can be said for any app or car information system, such as Bluetooth connections, that can take a driver’s attention away from the road.  In OSHA-speak, distracted driving may be ‘general duty’ clause violation (Section 5(a)(1) of the OSHA act).   As safety professionals well understand, the general duty clause is in the eye of the beholder.   If OSHA thinks the company should have recognized and addressed the hazard, it is likely to cite the company under the clause.

Not all the compliance issues involving cell phones are that vague.   The regulations for cranes and derricks (29 CFR § 1926.1417(d)) very explicitly ban cells phones for operators unless they are used for signalling.   Additionally, there are state laws that ban or restrict cell phone use by drivers.   As a part of their hazard analysis under regulations, companies also need to consider the potential for a fire from a cell phone battery in an explosive or flammable environment.

Finally, host companies need to be aware that they are responsible for the practices of companies and temporary workers they bring onto their sites, including anything that may lead to distracted driving.

Companies should enact a distracted driving program, both as a way to protect employees and as a necessary compliance effort.   Do you need help developing your program?  Would another set of eyes help make sure you are not missing anything?   Contact us at info@lifeline 

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