You must be proactive to keep your crew safe on the road.
By Alexandra Walsh
Work-related roadway crashes are the leading cause of death from traumatic injuries in the workplace in the United States.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the greatest number of fatalities in the construction industry that didn’t come from falls in 2017 were from roadway incidents involving motorized vehicles.
Prevention of work-related roadway crashes presents daunting challenges to employers, safety professionals, and government agencies who are all responsible for roadway safety and occupational safety.
The roadway is a work environment unlike any other. Employers and workers are affected by external events and environmental changes to a far greater extent than in more closed work settings where the employer can exert substantial control over the environment.
To ensure worker safety on the road, employers must continually readjust operational plans and safety policy in answer to events largely beyond their control.
Such events can range from long-term roadway construction projects, changes in traffic laws, changing customer demands that create new transportation routes or patterns, and changes in government regulations.
A single employer can also have workers operating many different types of motor vehicles—each requiring different levels of training, maintenance, and recordkeeping.
Employers who adopt proactive policies can do much to promote vehicle safety on and off the job. Employers can provide fleet vehicles offering the highest levels of protection in the event of a crash, and can ensure these vehicles receive regular inspection and maintenance.
Driver competence and readiness are also critical to workplace vehicle safety. Thus, it is crucial employers check driving records of prospective workers, confirm workers do have valid driver’s licenses, and provide training appropriate for the vehicles they will operate.
In addition, employers should not place workers at risk by pressuring them to complete jobs in an unrealistic amount of time.
Driver fatigue has been identified as a contributor to roadway crashes among workers as well as in the general population. Time of day (especially driving at night), how long one has stayed awake, inadequate sleep, sleep disorders, and prolonged work hours (including time spent performing non-driving tasks) have all been identified as contributing to the risk of fatigue-related crashes. The number of hours driven is of particular concern to the motor carrier industry.
Distracted driving, the use of cellphones while driving, and the increased use of other in-vehicle technologies present other safety concerns.
Research among the general population suggests hands-free devices are not necessarily a satisfactory alternative since carrying on a conversation while driving creates cognitive demands that result in measurable declines in driver performance.
Other technologies such as Bluetooth and on-board navigation systems place additional demands on a driver’s attention. Little is known about the content and length of business calls made on cellphones while driving—but should not be ignored.
Finally, the single most important driver safety policy employers can establish and enforce is the mandatory use of seat belts.
Age and Driving
Young drivers may be at increased risk for crashes because they don’t have enough experience to recognize, assess, and respond to hazards. Also, they may be willing to accept higher levels of risk than more experienced drivers on the road.
Many of the factors increasing the risk young drivers in the general population will be involved in vehicle crashes are also present in the workplace. Young people are not only new behind the wheel, they are also new to the workforce—compounding occupational safety concerns for this demographic already at high risk for vehicle crashes.
Federal regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act prohibit any and all on-the-job driving for workers who are 16 years old and limit the nature and amount of driving permitted for those who are 17.
However, the FLSA does not cover workers 18 and older, who are still in the process of developing driving skills and gaining experience. For this group of inexperienced young adult drivers, employers should consider postponing assigning them intensive or time-sensitive driving tasks, in accordance with graduated driver licensing laws that grant driving privileges gradually over time.
The need to accommodate older drivers is receiving increasing attention in the traffic safety community at large. Normal aging is accompanied by declines in reaction time and sharpness of vision, reduced ability to divide attention between tasks, and increased difficulty in handling complex and unfamiliar situations.
Since increasing numbers of Americans continue to work beyond the traditional retirement age of 65, special needs of older drivers become a workplace safety issue as well. Employers will increasingly need to evaluate methods for giving older drivers continued opportunities for employment while assuring safety is not compromised.
In addition, recommended highway changes designed to accommodate older drivers will benefit workers of all ages as well as the general driving population.
Keeping workers safe on the road can be a challenge for companies because of any number of factors surrounding safety and the roadways. However, making the effort has to be at the front of every employer’s mind to prevent workers you know from becoming another sad statistic.