Making safe driving a priority will lower workers’ compensation costs

Millions of people drive as part of their job, but many non-professional drivers never receive driving safety training. It’s easy to think that common sense will keep workers safe. Use seatbelts, don’t text and drive, obey speed limits, don’t drink and drive, take a break if tired …we have all heard the mantras hundreds of time.

Yet, the data clearly shows that relying on common sense is not enough. According to Injury Facts, the average economic cost due to a crash was more than $1 million per death, and more than $78,000 per nonfatal disabling injury. Motor vehicle accidents were the leading cause of occupational fatalities in the U.S. in 2012, accounting for 25% of deaths. Truck drivers accounted for 46% of these deaths.

The ringing of a phone or pinging of a text creates irresistible urges for people to answer the call, read the message or respond. Moreover, the need to meet deadlines or make on-time deliveries often results in shortcuts that lead to bad outcomes for both professional and non-professional drivers, including sales people, home health care professionals, IT personnel, and others.

A good practice is to incorporate driving policies into employee handbooks with a clear indication of the penalties for offenses. But it does not stop there. On-going training is also key.

Some of the major issues include:

Distracted driving

Distracted driving is not only texting, but also includes e-mailing, Web browsing, social media activity, phone calls, and even putting an address into a GPS. Technology continues to create more and more ways for drivers to be distracted. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), eighty percent of Americans mistakenly believe hands-free devices are safer than using handheld phones while driving. But more than 30 studies show hands-free devices don’t make drivers any safer because the brain remains distracted by the phone conversation.

Quoted in an Insurance Networking News article, “Digitally Distracted Driving Continues to Increase,” Chris Mullen, State Farm’s director of technology research says: “While people have a greater understanding of the amount of attention required to safely drive in certain conditions, such as ice and fog, they may not fully understand that using a phone while stopped at a red light is actually very dangerous. More than a third of all crashes occur at intersections, so drivers should not engage in any activities that take their attention off their surroundings or interfere with their ability to perform adequate surveillance.”

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and it is a good time to remind employees of company policies and the dangers of distracted driving. NSC offers free fact sheets and posters.

Drowsy driving

According to a Safety + Health article, “Drowsy Driving & Worker Safety,” conservative estimates peg drowsy driving as a contributing factor in about 1,000 fatalities a year, while a report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that more than 6,000 drowsy-driving crashes a year result in at least one fatality.

A new employment landscape that means longer commutes contributes, as does the number of people working more than one job. Industries, such as oil and gas, where workers often endure extended shifts and make lengthy trips to and from worksites are vulnerable to drowsy driving and a study, based on analysis of Centers for Disease Control data by the company, Sleepy’s, found home health aides are the most sleep deprived group — getting an average of six hours and 57 minutes of sleep a night.

In the article, Stephanie Pratt, coordinator of the NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety suggests employers should allow workers the flexibility to self-regulate on fatigue within certain limits. Other steps to combat the problem include:

  • Training workers about the risks of drowsy driving
  • Providing safer travel options, such as by bus, from remote worksites
  • Empowering workers to seek overnight accommodations when they are too tired to drive safely
  • Offering voluntary screening for sleep apnea
  • Implementing voluntary, structured napping programs during parts of the work shift

There are many resources available. The National Sleep Foundation offers one such resource. Another option for employers is to create toolbox talks and other programs from information included in the North American Fatigue Management Program. The Stark County (OH) Sheriff’s Department created a “Workplace Driver Safety Toolkit” to help employers.

Slips, trips or falls

Both professional and non-professional drivers are at a greater danger of suffering slips, trips, or falls because their work often involves hours of sitting while driving, followed by physical exertion in unfamiliar surroundings. A first step is to encourage workers to report hazardous conditions at customer sites.

In the trucking industry there has been an influx of inexperienced drivers as companies raise wages to meet growing demand and overcome a persistent driver shortage. The jobs are often more physical than people realize. Operational, educational and ergonomic steps can be taken to reduce the risk. Wellness and fitness programs aimed at the risks of driver injuries are also beneficial.

Seat belts

While years of educational campaigns and increased laws governing the use of seat belts have made the practice of buckling up the social norm, it’s estimated that 10 to 15 percent of drivers do not use seat belts. A recent study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) revealed that one in six long-haul truck drivers (LHTDs) does not wear seat belts.

Particularly interesting was the relationship this study found between truckers who reported never using a seat belt and other factors associated with unsafe driving. High on the list was the absence of a written employer safety program. A requirement that drivers and all passengers use their seat belts is an important component of a comprehensive motor vehicle safety management program. Comprehensive safety programs also can address unsafe driving behaviors such as speeding and other moving violations, both of which were found in this survey to be associated with never wearing a seat belt. Involving workers in development and implementation of these programs can increase their effectiveness.

It is also interesting to note that female truck drivers were more likely to never wear a seat belt than male truck drivers. Engineering and design changes might increase seat belt use. Previous studies identified personal choice and discomfort related to belt positioning, tightness, range of motion, and rubbing as primary reasons not to wear a seat belt. It was also reported that seat belts in trucks were uncomfortable for women and shorter drivers.

Whether you manage a fleet of vehicles, a mobile sales force or other drivers, or provide home health services, by implementing a driver safety plan you can greatly reduce your exposure and the risk of injury to your workers.

  For Cutting-Edge Strategies on slashing Workers’ Compensation Costs visit www.PremiumReductionCenter.com

David Leng, CPCU, CIC, CBWA, CWCA, CRM

Author | Speaker | Certified Risk Manager | Certified Work Comp Advisor

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