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DOL, OSHA Partner to Fight Distracted Driving
 

By Kathy Gurchiek  9/23/2010
 

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are partnering to combat distracted driving, which in 2008 resulted in the deaths of 5,870 people and the injuries of 515,000 more.

“It is imperative that employers eliminate financial and other incentives that encourage workers to text while driving,” DOL Secretary Hilda L. Solis said in a news release. “It is well recognized that texting while driving dramatically increases the risk of a motor vehicle injury or fatality.”

Her announcement of the partnership came during the second Driving While Distracted Summit on Sept. 21, 2010 in Washington, D.C.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2009 prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving. Texting while driving also is the subject of DOT rulemaking.

OSHA’s multipronged initiative against distracted driving includes:

  • An education campaign for employers, to be launched in early October 2010 during Drive Safely Work Week. It will call on employers to prevent occupationally related distracted driving, with a special focus on prohibiting texting while driving.
  • Messages on the OSHA web site to showcase model employer policies.
  • Encouragement to employer and labor associations to communicate the OSHA message.
  • An open letter to employers.
  • Alliances with the National Safety Council and other key organizations in an outreach to employers—especially small employers—to combat distracted driving and prohibit texting while driving.
  • A special emphasis on reaching young workers by coordinating with other Labor Department agencies, alliance partners and stakeholders.
  • Investigating the possibility of issuing citations and penalties against employers to end the practice of employers requiring texting while driving.

Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), noted during an afternoon summit session that 16 states and the District of Columbia are working with employers to develop policies on distracted driving.

Those states are Alaska, California, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.

Several states have established corporate outreach programs to disseminate traffic safety material and messages to employers, according to the GHSA web site; Delaware and Kentucky have added distracted driving components to their corporate outreach programs.

Harsha said 35 states are working with other state agencies or private entities to address distracted driving, 12 states have enacted bans on texting while driving, and GHSA expects that nearly all states will ban text messaging while driving in the next two years.

The GHSA report, Curbing Distracted Driving: 2010 Survey of State Safety Programs, can be found at http://www.ghsa.org/html/publications/survey/pdf/2010_distraction.pdf.

Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety and driver training for Schneider National trucking company, advised employers to start with a policy in combating distracted driving. That policy should begin with recruiters and extend to the employee’s family, Osterberg said.

Recruiters for Schneider who receive a call from a job candidate while that candidate is driving are instructed to tell the candidate to get off the phone and call back once he or she isn’t operating the vehicle.

This sets the safety expectation early in a potential employee’s experience with the employer, he said. And an employee’s family members, who are likely to call while that employee is driving, also should be educated on the company policy, Osterberg said.

Additionally, Schneider’s customer service representatives do not have access to drivers’ cell phone numbers so that they will not be tempted to call a driver who is on the road.

His organization tries to enforce a culture of safety by asking drivers to sign a card that pledges that the employee is a disciplined, safety-conscious professional who leads by example and maintains constant awareness while driving.

“We call upon all employers to prohibit any work policy or practice that requires or encourages workers to text while driving,” said Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, in a news release.

OSHA makes it clear, he noted, that “employers must provide a workplace free of recognized hazards.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.

Related Articles:

Obama Administration Seeks Restrictions on Cell Phone Use, Texting While Driving, SHRM Online Safety & Security Discipline, Oct. 28, 2009

Distracted Driving by Employees May Result in Employer Liability, SHRM Online Legal Issues, Aug. 28, 2009

More People Driving While Distracted, Survey Shows, HR News, Feb. 22, 2007

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