No employer wants to put workers, clients or customers at risk. Ideally, every workplace should have a strong safety culture that eliminates hazards, enforces compliance, and protects employees (and anyone visiting the worksite) from harm. But for a small business owner, the logistics can be overwhelming. Regulations are confusing. Equipment is expensive. Training is a substantial time investment. Enforcement can be challenging. Too often, a robust safety program is scratched off the priority list in favor of a bare-bones approach.
According to the National Safety Council, 27 percent of auto accidents have one common factor: mobile phone use, and that statistic is growing. Using electronics to talk, text or email (not to mention viewing or posting on social media) while driving seriously impacts our cognitive abilities: we see less of our environment, react more slowly and have a false sense of confidence similar to intoxication.
Studies show that the majority people know it’s dangerous to use mobile phones while driving, but most of us do it anyway. At any time during the day, 9 percent of drivers are using mobile phones. Unfortunately, mobile phone use behind the wheel is the dangerous, new normal. And many people do it while conducting company business.
Regardless of company size, industry or who owns the phone or the car, if employees use mobile phones for work communication, then you need a strong, up-to-date policy banning electronic device use while driving. Auto accidents are the leading cause of work fatalities, and employees who use mobile phones for work while driving pose serious risks to themselves, the public and their employer. Yet many employers have no policy in place or have a narrow, ambiguous policy that doesn’t eliminate risks.
So what are the risks? The most obvious are injuries or fatalities to an employee or a member of the public. And employers can be legally liable for millions of dollars from injuries and property damage when work related mobile phone use results in an auto accident. There are also other costs: property loss, increased insurance rates, business interruption, absenteeism, reduced productivity and damage to company reputation. Even if no accident occurs, mobile phone use while driving can put an employer in violation of federal law. OSHA can fine a business up to $70,000 if that business requires, encourages or makes necessary texting while driving.
What makes an effective policy?
An effective policy must meet three criteria: 1) it must be written, 2) it must be broad enough to protect the company, and 3) it must be enforced consistently.
Many employers do not have a written policy. Some feel they are not at risk; others assume that a presentation or one-time email blast to discourage mobile phone use while driving is enough. But as the old saying goes, nothing is official unless you put it in writing. It can be a standalone document, or part of the company’s employee handbook. It should require an individual employee signature that can be placed in a personnel file.
But even a written policy is only as good as the wording. Many policies have narrow wording or special exceptions that don’t eliminate risk. They may only address certain behaviors, like talking, but not texting or emailing. Or they may apply to only company cars and phones, or to certain employees. Some allow “hands-free” technology, even though numerous studies have established that being “hands-free” does not reduce the chances of an accident.
Another common flaw is wording a policy to match state or municipal law. Like policies, mobile phone laws can be narrow and outdated. They are poor benchmarks for protection from liability. So if the law and your policy allow for “hands-free” mobile use, the company may still be found liable by a civil jury for an accident where the employee was talking “hands-free” for work.
So what makes an effective “distracted driving” or mobile phone use policy? The policy should ban any and all business-related communication or work by an employee via electronic device while driving, including texting and use of hands-free devices. It should cover all employees, all vehicles, all company-owned devices, and all work-related communication, regardless of who owns the phone or the car. It should lay out clear disciplinary action, and it should be reviewed annually.
Enforcement: the final hurdle.
In our fast-paced world, we all depend on our phones, so fears of reduced productivity can make employers hesitant to enforce a policy. Yet a company with an unenforced policy has the same level of protection as a company with no policy. And most employers who enforce a full ban report no decrease in productivity.
Any new or updated policy should get a major “roll-out”, with meetings and an opportunity for questions and answers. It should also be specifically addressed during orientation for new hires. There should also be regular reminders to all employees about the policy. Disciplinary action should be consistently enforced for all violations. And management should be continually educated on appropriate expectations, so that employees are not placed in situations where they might feel required or encouraged use a mobile phone while driving. Promote a company culture where all team members understand management’s expectations and put safety first.
A policy that bans business communication on a mobile phone while driving can seem challenging, but work-related auto accidents are a serious concern for employers. An effective written policy will help protect you from risk and reinforce to your employees that their safety is your priority. If you have any questions regarding implementing, updating or enforcing a mobile phone policy, call Staff One HR!
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