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September 26, 2014
Driving a successful road safety program: Are your efforts to eliminate crashes firing on all cylinders?

The single most hazardous task many employees perform each day is driving to and from work. Road accidents remain the number one cause of employee fatalities. If your focus is on chemicals, falls, amputations, and other front-line hazards, you need to give driving equal attention.

This Compliance Report looks closely at the causes of crashes and how smart employers are fighting back. We provide tools and information to help you participate in a national safe driving observance coming up next month.

Crash facts

Beyond the incalculable personal price, vehicle crashes cost employers $60 billion annually in medical care, legal expenses, property damage, and lost productivity. They drive up the cost of benefits like workers’ compensation, health and disability insurance, and Social Security.

The average crash costs an employer $16,500. When injury is involved, that rises to $74,000 and typically exceeds $500,000 when there is a fatality.

According to September 2014 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fatal transportation incidents were down 10 percent in 2013, but still accounted for about two out of every five fatal work injuries in 2013. Of the 1,740 transportation-related deaths last year, nearly three out of every five (a total of 991) involved motorized land vehicles.

Nonroadway incidents, such as a tractor overturn in a farm field, accounted for another 13 percent of transportation-related fatalities. Approximately 16 percent of fatal transportation incidents (284 cases) in 2013 involved pedestrians who were struck by vehicles; 48 of these occurred in work zones. The BLS expects that these numbers will rise once final figures are in for the year.

With some exceptions in marine and agricultural employment, OSHA does not regulate driving. But the agency is involved in the effort to make driving safer. According to OSHA guidelines for reducing vehicle crashes, employers should establish a safety program that seeks to:

  • Save lives and reduce the risk of life-altering injuries among your workers,
  • Protect your organization’s human and financial resources, and
  • Guard against potential company and personal liabilities.

10-step approach

OSHA advocates a program developed by the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) centered around 10 elements:

  • Senior management commitment and employee involvement. Senior management provides leadership, sets policies, and establishes safety culture.
  • Written policies and procedures. Create a clear, comprehensive and enforceable set of traffic safety policies and make them a cornerstone of your driving safety program.
  • Driver agreements. Establish a contract with employees who drive for work purposes. In it, drivers acknowledge awareness and understanding of the rules regarding driver performance, maintenance, and reporting of moving violations.
  • Motor vehicle record (MVR) checks. Check the driving records of all employees who drive for work purposes. Screen individuals with poor records to avoid future problems.
  • Crash reporting and investigation. All incidents, regardless of severity, should be reported promptly. Your policies and procedures should clearly guide drivers through their responsibilities in order to determine cause and whether the incident was preventable.
  • Vehicle selection, maintenance, and inspection. Selecting, properly maintaining, and routinely inspecting company vehicles are essential to incident prevention.
  • Disciplinary action. Use a policy-based strategy to determine the course of action after a moving violation or preventable incident.
  • Reward/incentive program. Consider an incentive program that makes safe driving an integral part of your business culture. As with all such programs, reward upstream, positive behaviors and make sure you’re not discouraging reporting in any way.
  • Driver training and communication. You need to be continuously training and teaching. Even experienced, safe drivers need regular training to keep skills sharp and avoid complacency.
  • Regulatory compliance. Make sure your drivers are aware of applicable federal, state, and local regulations, including those issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the Federal Highway Administration.

Organization fueled by safety

Jack Hanley is the executive director of NETS, the Network of Employees for Traffic Safety. NETS is a not-for-profit, employer-led road safety advocacy organization that provides a variety of programs and services, including an annual employer survey of best practices.

10 STARTLING FACTS ABOUT DISTRACTED DRIVING

Don’t assume that your employees “get it” when it comes to distracted driving. Help protect them from themselves by driving home the facts. According to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety:

  • In 2012, 3,328 people were killed and more than 420,000 were injured in crashes involving distracted driving.
  • Crashes involving a distracted driver cost about $46 billion per year.
  • Using a cell phone is more likely to lead to a crash or near crash than other forms of distraction, primarily because they are used so often and so much.
  • Drivers using cell phones look at, but fail to see, up to 50 percent of the information in their driving environment.
  • At any given time, about 9 percent of drivers are visibly speaking into a handheld or hands-free mobile device.
  • Using a cell phone while driving significantly delays driver reaction time.
  • There is no significant difference between the cognitive distractions involved when using a hands-free vs. a handheld device.
  • About a quarter of drivers in a 2013 survey reported sending a text message or e-mail while driving at least once in the past 30 days. Nearly three-quarters said they had read a text or e-mail.
  • Sending a text message takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 5 seconds. That’s like driving the length of a football field at 55 miles per hour with your eyes closed.
  • Texting and driving are illegal for all drivers in 44 U.S. states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Some states and municipalities ban the use of handheld phones as well.

NETS leads the annual Drive Safely Work Week (DSWW) observance, scheduled this year for October 6–10. The NETS website (http://www.trafficsafety.org) offers DSWW information and materials. The theme for 2014 is Driving Your Safety Culture Home. New this year is NETS’ Comprehensive Guide to Road Safety.

Asked his view of why vehicle accidents continue to be such a persistent workplace problem, Hanley points to employer perceptions of risk. Closely regulated, high-hazard sites like chemical plants have solid risk-reduction and training initiatives in place to ensure that catastrophic accidents don’t happen. While leaders at such workplaces are used to thinking about and planning for risk, that attention often does not extend to driving, where accidents are seen as the cost of doing business. “In many cases, they have not turned on the light to see that, in fact, they need to bring road safety into their safety culture,” says Hanley.

At companies with the best driving programs, the safety culture extends beyond the building and onto the roads. Driving safety efforts continue to evolve over the years. For example, a hands-free policy of 5 or so years ago at a progressive workplace has probably been replaced today with a no-calls policy, i.e., if the engine is on, the phone is off.

NETS regularly surveys its members to learn about best practices of companies with the safest driving records. In recent surveys those practices have included:

  • Tracking completion of driver training on a road safety scorecard,
  • Conducting ride-alongs with new hires and high-risk drivers,
  • Communicating road safety messages via senior-management presentations at meetings,
  • Terminating drivers for violating policies on mobile phone use,
  • Establishing a special team or board that reviews every collision and shares lessons learned,
  • Offering training modules on drowsy or fatigued driving, and
  • Developing a high-risk driver program.

The business case for driving safety

With billions of dollars being diverted to accidents and their aftermath, we asked Hanley about the business case for eliminating accidents. He explains that in the past, most businesses would not require an economic analysis in order to approve safety programs or initiatives. “But today, we’re not seeing that automatic okay when it comes to initiatives that will improve road safety,” says Hanley.

Leaders require cost/benefit information. As a result, companies are being forced to develop the rationale for driving safety programs. In some cases, that only happens after the accounting department starts looking into the real cost of repeated accidents, even those that involve only “bent metal” and no personal injury.

At an average company, 20 percent of vehicles will be involved in a crash in any given year, says Hanley. Using the government’s estimate of $16,000 for a no-injury accident, the cost for a business with a fleet of 20 vehicles would be $64,000, assuming that 20 percent, or four vehicles, were involved in a collision. Business owners are often shocked when they calculate how much product they have to produce to pay for vehicle accidents.

Let’s talk training

When it comes to making an impact on your workers, driving policies and training are arguably the most powerful tools in your toolbox. Brandon Dufour knows a lot about driver training. His family business, All-Star Driver (http://www.all-stardriver.com), has been teaching thousands of teen drivers in Connecticut each year. The business has recently extended its scope to employee driver training.

Employers often believe that common sense is enough to keep their workers crash free, says Dufour. They don’t see the value in developing a detailed policy because the rules seem so obvious—don’t text and drive; don’t drink and drive. But obvious isn’t enough when lives are at stake.

The All-Star approach is policy-driven. “We’ve created a policy that will cover 95 percent of employers for any type of driver negligence claims. We provide the policy and train employees step by step on it.” The All-Star policy relies on a full ban on distracted driving. If an employee is found to be texting and driving, for example, a first offense would yield a warning with a penalty and a second offense would lead to termination. The same applies to drinking and driving.

Dufour’s “sent from my iPhone” message includes the words, “Sent from my iPhone, but not while driving. If you’re reading this while driving, please stop. Park your phone. Drive your car.”

Three culprits

We asked Dufour to reflect on three persistent obstacles to safe driving—distraction, road rage, and complacency. About distraction, he says the problem is that everyone thinks he or she is a great driver. He likes to quote the late comedian George Carlin, who famously quipped, Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”

Most people realize that driving is a risky activity, says Dufour. But very few feel that they are personally at risk. The same applies to distractions. He cites a study in which participants’ adrenaline spiked when they heard a cell phone ring on a table. Sure, it’s just a call, but too often we grab the call or read the e-mail, thinking this could be the big sale or the game-changing opportunity. The problem is that using the phone while driving could prevent you from ever taking advantage of that big opportunity.

WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT SLEEP AND DRIVING?

Americans are exhausted, and it’s costing us dearly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 2.5 percent of fatal crashes and 2 percent of injury crashes involve drowsy driving. These estimates are probably conservative; up to 5,000 or 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers.

As an icebreaker at your next safety meeting or toolbox talk, toss out these true/false statements about fatigue to see what your employees know.

1. Coffee overcomes the effects of drowsiness while driving. False. Stimulants are no substitute for sleep. Drinks containing caffeine, such as coffee or cola, can help you feel more alert, but the effects last only for a short time.

2. Rolling down the window or singing along with the radio will keep you awake. False.An open window or the radio has no lasting effect on your ability to stay awake. If you’re tired, you need sleep.

 “The stats are really mind-numbing,” says Dufour. “Distracted driving—texting, emailing, web browsing, or putting an address into a GPS—is the number one cause of death and injury on the road, above drinking and driving.” He shares these stats with trainees and shows them high-impact videos. One tells the story of a man who thought reading an e-mail while driving was so important that he ended up killing a cyclist, changing his life forever. “In the moment it always seems worth it, but the trick is getting people to think ahead about how this could impact their life,” he adds.

Dufour discounts the argument that prohibiting employees from using in-car devices makes them less productive. He cites research that shows safe drivers are, in fact, more productive than those who use devices in the car. A survey of Fortune 500 companies showed that just eliminating distracted driving increased employee productivity about 20 percent.

Retaining lessons learned is another challenge. Following safe driver training, employees tend to remain vigilant, at least for a while, about following the rules. The concern is keeping awareness high. All-Star Driver is working on some new awareness tactics, including software that sends a safety message to your screen every morning and safe-driving questions that must be answered correctly in order to log on.

Dufour approaches the subject of road rage by asking trainees to consider what it’s worth to them to react to drivers who drive poorly or rudely. He suggests, “A complete stranger did something you thought was stupid. What value do you put on that action? Is it worth going to jail or increasing your own risk of an accident?”

He suggests to trainees that the time they put into responding is time they’ll never get back—time that could go into productive effort. All-Star helps drivers learn techniques that can help them let it go. For example, just changing the radio station can help take your mind off what just happened, relax, and move on.

Complacency can be deadly. If you drive the same route to work every day you’re likely to become blind to the risks. Dufour uses the example of a woman who drove the same route to work every day. At first, she always obeyed a stop sign along the way even though she never saw another car at the intersection. Six months later, she stopped only occasionally, and after a year, she didn’t stop at all. Then one day, a car appeared at the intersection as the woman cruised through.

Dufour recommends alternating your route to work. Even though this might add a few minutes to your commute, it’s worth it. Changing your course forces you to see the road and the risks.

Give road safety the green light

If you’re ready to make positive changes, Dufour suggests starting with your employee handbook—review your driving policies, and make sure you’re training on them. If you don’t have policies, you’re exposing your business to significant risk. “Call a labor attorney, your risk manager, us, get help from somebody,” he suggests.

Don’t wait for a tragedy because, at that point, it’s too late. There’s no way to fix the problem of a dead or injured employee, driver, or pedestrian.

Look for additional resources at Safety.BLR.com; the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (http://trafficsafety.org); the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (http://www.NHTSA.gov); and OSHA (https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/motorvehiclesafety). ANSI/ASSE Z5.1 2012 also offers elements of a road-safety management system.

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