OSHA Tip Tuesday- Prohibit Employees from Texting While Driving

(photo credit: freedigitalphotos.com/mapichai)
As we wrap up Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we have this OSHA tip for employers whose workforce drives during the course of work.OSHA urges employers to take an active role in prohibiting employees from texting while driving. This behavior could result in serious injury or death. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 2 out of every 5 fatal work injuries in 2012 were transportation-related (driving, boating, railway and aircraft). That accounts for 1,789 deaths in 2012. 95% of those transportation fatalities involved motor vehicles.Texting not only takes your eyes off the road, it occupies your brain with something other than driving. Multi-tasking is a good thing, right? Not while driving. This is what is referred to as cognitive distraction, so even using hands-free cellular devices is not safe while driving. Anything that occupies your mind other than what is on the road in front of you, is taking brain power away from the task at hand.  This white paper from National Safety Council describes what happens in the distracted brain. The white paper estimates that “drivers using cell phones look but fail to see up to 50 percent of the information in their driving environment.” That’s like saying if you are approaching an intersection with a green light, and there is someone walking across the street, you have a 50-50 chance of acting on the correct information if you are using a cell phone-even with your eyes on the road. Texting compounds this phenomenon by actually taking your eyes off of the road for 3-5 seconds. Distraction.gov measures that at 55mph you can drive the length of a football field in 4.6 seconds. I would not place my bets with the person walking across the street in that scenario.OSHA has put together a brochure and a web page on distracted driving as a resource for employers. The webpage includes a letter from David Michaels, PhD, MPH, Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health from 2010 which states “Companies are in violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act if, by policy or practice, they require texting while driving, or create incentives that encourage or condone it, or they structure work so that texting is a practical necessity for workers to carry out their job.”  Employers beware, even if your written policies are in compliance and prohibit texting while driving, what is common practice among your workers? Are workers able to complete their tasks without using their cell phones while driving? Make sure that routes and appointment times allow for any necessary phone calls or texts to the office to happen before your employees are back on the road.Your company culture must be a safety culture in order to foster policies that are put into practice by everyone. It is very important to have buy-in at every level, but first engage the support of senior-level management to assign resources to safety programs. Then provide incentives to managers and employees for putting those safety policies and programs into action.