By Gary H. Gokey, CSP, ARM
Based on the number of fatalities and lost-time injuries caused, what’s the most dangerous type of equipment at construction sites and industrial workplaces?
You might assume that it’s a piece of mobile construction equipment or an industrial press, but it’s actually the vehicles your workers drive. Job-related vehicle accidents are the leading cause of work-related fatalities and lost-time injuries. Those deaths and injuries cost companies millions of dollars in additional expenses beyond the cost of fuel, insurance and upkeep.
In the eighteen-year period between 1992 and 2009, worker deaths from motor vehicle accidents accounted for approximately 40 percent (actual 39.9%) of all on-the-job fatalities. That compares to 22 percent from workplace homicides and 21 percent from falls. Although the overall number and rate of occupational fatalities has showed a slight decline over that last decade, the rate of motor vehicle-related deaths still remains the leader.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statics
Most companies have excellent safety programs with controls and protection to ensure that workers perform tasks safely. But many of those companies fail to extend that standard of safety to their vehicle fleets. Because there is no current standard by OSHA directly dealing with automobile safety, it becomes incumbent upon employers to take steps to protect workers who drive company vehicles.
Obviously, avoiding accident that result in injuries and fatalities is the first objective of a fleet safety program. However, a comprehensive program will also help companies minimize both the direct and indirect costs of vehicle crashes. Direct costs are related to insurance coverage, while indirect costs are those that cannot be covered and/or recovered through insurance programs. They may include costs relating to insurance deductibles, delays in meeting schedules due to loss or damage to equipment, replacement of injured employees, additional administrative time for paperwork or investigations, and similar factors. Litigation, especially related to the auto accidents, can become even more costly for companies.
The most effective type of fleet safety program addresses four primary areas. Within each of those are several sub-categories that should be addressed.
1. A solid administrative commitment
A company’s owners and top management must have a clear commitment to worker safety, including when workers are using company vehicles. A good starting point is a signed statement of policy from the company president, conveying that all company assets, including vehicles, will be in a safe operating condition, and that those who operate company vehicles are responsible for assuring that.
The statement should also make it clear that the safety and well-being of employees while operating a company vehicle (and driving to and from work) is a top priority. Finally, it should emphasize that the goal is to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries during use and operation of company vehicles.
Senior managers need to provide leadership, establish policies, and allocate staff and budgetary resources to set the tone for the program -- and should set an example by using and practicing defensive driving techniques and obeying highway laws.
Written policies should detail issues such as safe use and operation of company vehicles, drug and alcohol usage, driver qualifications, driver screening, personal use, distractions (e.g. electronics, cell phones, eating), accident reporting procedures, and disciplinary measures.
2. Operator controls
The company needs to ensure that only qualified employees operate company vehicles. That means not only meeting state and federal regulations, but also any other criteria established by the company. Such criteria might include age requirements, physical capabilities, experience, passing written and road tests, and maintaining an acceptable driving history. A driver’s prior driving history should be verified through a current motor vehicle report (MVR) secured through the state that issued the operator’s license.
The policy needs to be specific, so there are no questions about what constitutes an “acceptable” or a “non-acceptable” driving history. This could include specific restrictions related to prior accidents, convictions for motor vehicle violations (especially where alcohol and/or drugs were involved), along with past license suspensions and revocations.
Drivers should be required to sign agreements confirming that the employee acknowledges awareness and an understanding of the company’s fleet safety policies/procedures, expectations of driving performance, vehicle maintenance/inspection requirements, and disciplinary action for violation of company fleet policies.
3. Selecting, maintaining, and inspecting vehicles
Company vehicles should be properly selected based on type and usage, with consideration given to safety features. Vehicles that carry high ratings for crashworthiness, ease of repairs, and overall safety should be given top priority.
Maintenance intervals should be established and conveyed to the drivers, with tracking to ensure that the intervals are followed. Regular, documented inspections by drivers are equally important, with spot checks by management or designated individuals to ensure compliance.
4. Regulatory compliance
The safety program should determine whether the vehicles fall under the scope of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations because of their usage, vehicle size (weight), and/or materials that are transported, handled or towed. Drivers of company vehicles may be required to carry a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Additional endorsements may also be required for specific driving operations, including chauffeuring more than fifteen people at once.
Beyond the driver’s licensing requirements, additional documentation may be needed to comply with Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, such as previous employment verification, drug and alcohol screening, and driving history verification.
Are you properly protected?
Avoiding losses, either from employee incidents or auto related accidents, which could wreak havoc on the company’s bottom line demands planning, monitoring, reviewing, and implementing controls. If you’ve already developed a plan that includes the elements described here, you can be confident that you have an effective program -- and that you’ve done everything that can be reasonably expected to ensure that drivers for your company are qualified, trained and experienced. You also know those drivers are operating safely maintained vehicles and are in compliance with state, federal and local regulations. Most of all, you have a strong comfort level when you hand over a set of keys to an employee who will drive on the company’s behalf.