Top cause of workplace injuries, fatalities often preventable, experts say
By Nancy GroverBusinesses lose millions of dollars each year from motor vehicle accidents. However, many employers are unaware of the actual toll motor vehicle crashes take on their businesses.
Experts say employers can prevent many motor vehicle accidents among their workers, often at little expense. By focusing on the issue and including driving as part of a corporate safety culture, businesses can greatly mitigate the risks associated with motor vehicle incidents.
Latest trends. A preliminary estimate of motor vehicle fatalities for 2012 indicates an increase over 2011, according to the National Safety Council. The 36,200 deaths represent a 5 percent increase and the first since 2005. Crash injuries that required medical attention were also estimated to have increased by 5 percent to 3.9 million.
“One would expect a correlation between miles driven and fatalities as we come out of this economic mess; people are hiring again, feeling more confident, driving more miles, so we might tend to see an increase in fatalities,” said Jack Hanley, executive director of the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety. “I’m not so sure employers can affect the macroeconomics of it, but certainly employers have a responsibility to affect what their own drivers are doing.”
Traffic crashes are the number one cause of workplace deaths and injuries and cost employers more than $60 billion annually, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nevertheless, few employers develop policies that address motor vehicle safety.
“One thing I have observed is that it’s not until a company experiences a catastrophic event that brings along with it reputational damages, huge losses, and bad press does the CEO ask ‘what are we going to do about it?’ It’s then that many businesses take the issue seriously,” Hanley said. “They ought to be proactive and recognize that probably the most dangerous thing their employees do every day is drive to work and home and drive on behalf of their companies.”
Employer strategies. “Any employer that is serious about the safety of its employees needs to think of road safety for its employees the same ways it thinks about safety within its manufacturing sites and research facilities,” Hanley said. “Sometimes there is a fair amount of attention given to safety in these other facilities but not that much to road safety.”
NETS, a public-private partnership with 80 member companies, is focused on improving motor vehicle safety among workforces. Members participate in NETS’ annual Strength in Numbers fleet safety benchmark program, allowing them to compare strategies.
“Companies that join our benchmark group and pay attention and are serious about learning about what comes out of the benchmark survey are rewarded with best practices that will help them reduce collisions, injuries, fatalities, and costs,” Hanley said. “NETS provides companies a platform for collaboration, comparison and a platform for improvement.”
Hanley says the key parts of a multifaceted plan for reducing driving risks should begin with policies that are understood and enforced.
“You need to do motor vehicle records checks to identify high-risk drivers,” he said. Through focused training, these employees can become safer drivers.
Technological improvements are also a feature of safe driving programs for many companies. Among the latest technologies are in-vehicle monitoring systems that track, for instance, how quickly an employee accelerates, brakes, and turns.
“Leading road safety companies are looking at the use of this technology, not because they want to catch them, but because companies want something that provides a leading indicator,” Hanley explained. “If you can identify an employee who speeds too much, the employer can intervene to change the driver’s behind-the-wheel behavior, reducing the odds the driver will cause a collision.”
Best practices. Part of the training for employees, especially those identified as high-risk drivers, includes getting them to understand the dangers associated with the use of mobile devices. Many people are unaware that talking on a cellphone while driving, whether handheld or hands-free, makes a driver four times more likely to have an accident, according to the NSC.
“NETS’ benchmark program ranks companies using the collisions per million mile ratio. We isolate those with the lowest collision rates and ask, ‘what is it about their road safety programs that, statistically, sets them apart?’ Typically, we end up with two or three things,” Hanley said. “For example, zero use of cellphones when behind the wheel — handheld or Bluetooth — no use of cellphone or any electronic device.”
The NETS members that are the most successful in curbing motor vehicle-related incidents go beyond focusing on their employees who drive for business. As Hanley says, they also target their communication and road safety awareness programs to all their employees, the employees’ families, and in a number of cases, the communities where the employees live and work.
“The idea of road safety as a component of their sustainability agenda sets a handful apart from all the rest,” Hanley said. “For many, it’s a vision. For some, it’s a reality.”