Product Liability

Government agencies work to combat job safety hazards behind the wheel

Earlier this month we posted on workplace safety and how most on-the-job fatalities actually occur behind the wheel. Transportation accidents accounted for 40 percent of all workplace fatalities last year, and they have been a leading cause of on-the-job deaths for the last 18 consecutive years. In an effort to address this safety problem more effectively, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has teamed up with the Department of Transportation to combat distracted driving.

Distracted driving, mainly the use of cell phones while behind the wheel, has emerged as a significant safety threat in the last decade, and it’s a hazard that is often equally related to work activities and driving responsibilities.

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

OSHA’s Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels echoed Secretary Solis’s call for employers to take initiative in combating job fatalities behind the wheel. If employees are required or encouraged to text while driving for reasons related to job performance, then the employer fails to “provide a workplace free of recognized hazards,” Michaels said.

Prohibiting texting while driving was also the subject of an executive order signed by President Barack Obama last year for federal employees  and it was the subject of rulemaking by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, both divisions of the Transportation Department.

OSHA and the DOT are also launching a multi-pronged initiative that includes:

  • An education campaign for employers, to be launched during “Drive Safely Work Week” in early October, will call on employers to prevent occupationally related distracted driving, with a special focus on prohibiting texting while driving.
  • An open letter to employers to be posted on OSHA’s website during “Drive Safely Work Week.” The website also will showcase model employer policies and encourage employer and labor associations to communicate OSHA’s message.
  • Alliances with the National Safety Council and other key organizations as outreach to employers, especially small employers, aimed at combating distracted driving and prohibit texting while driving.
  • Special emphasis on reaching younger workers by coordinating with other Labor Department agencies as well as alliance partners and stakeholders.
  • Investigating and issuing citations and penalties where necessary to end the practice when OSHA receives a credible complaint that an employer requires texting while driving.