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Protect Workers from the No. 1 Cause of Workplace Deaths

Filed in Safety By on April 14, 2015

We live in a very connected world. Many of us find it hard to disconnect from work when we are away from the office, and today vehicle and technology manufacturers have made it even easier to check emails, make calls and even update social media while driving. It begs the question:  what is the cost of constant connectivity? Is convenience more important than safety? With more than 35,000 people dying on our roads each year, and traffic crashes being the number one workplace killer, we need to do everything possible to keep our workers safe. This includes addressing distracted driving, as the National Safety Council estimates cell phones are involved in 26 percent of all crashes.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and an excellent time to review your transportation policies. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Distracted Driving brochure details employers’ legal responsibility to safeguard drivers at work. This holds true whether they drive full time or only occasionally to carry out their work, and whether they drive a company vehicle or their own.

A best practice cell phone policy covers: all employees, both handheld and hands-free devices, company vehicles, company cell phones and all work-related communications. Currently, no state law bans all cell phone use behind the wheel, but employers are taking the lead by putting effective policies in place.

Owens Corning is celebrating its third year of having a cell phone policy. The 2014 recipient of the council’s Green Cross for Safety medal, Owens Corning takes safety very seriously. So much so, that before preparing to roll out a cell phone policy, its CEO went 90 days with no cell phone use, handheld or hands-free. If he could do it without affecting productivity, so could the rest of his company.

Establishing a policy may entail reviewing how safe your processes are and making some changes. Cummins, the 2014 recipient of the council’s Campbell Award, made necessary changes when developing its policy without sacrificing productivity. It shifted the work patterns of its sales team to schedule calls during stops and changed dispatch protocols to prevent mobile service technicians from having to use their phones while driving. It was important to Cummins that their employees understand concern for their safety extends beyond the walls of the workplace.

NSC has been capturing feedback on employer policies since 2009. More than 6 million workers are safeguarded by complete cell phone bans. However a huge opportunity exists for more employers to put policies in place or upgrade the ones they have. We created a free Cell Phone Policy Kit with information you can use to establish or strengthen your company’s policy.

From the feedback we have collected, it appears only half of the policies cover all employees. Often policies cover only fleet drivers, leaving others who frequently drive for their jobs exposed to risk, such as management and sales staff. We are also seeing many policies do not cover hands-free devices. More than 30 research studies show hands-free devices don’t make drivers any safer – the brain remains distracted by the phone conversation.

The truth is, there is no safe way to use a cell phone and drive. Employers who expect employees to use cell phones while driving as part of their business must recognize that doing so exposes their workers to an avoidable crash risk and their company to liability. Complete your safety program during Distracted Driving Awareness Month with a complete ban on cell phone use while driving.

Deborah Hersman is the CEO and president of the National Safety Council.

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