Driving is an essential part of the job for many plumbers, electricians, and HVAC field service technicians. And while working safely at the office is relatively easy, safety becomes a lot more complicated when you leave the parking lot. If we could predict the future, avoiding accidents would be simple. Since that’s not an option, it makes sense to plan ahead with some strategies to help limit the number of accidents and injuries, and if worse comes to worst, respond to emergency situations.
Why Workplace Motor Vehicle Safety Matters
According to the NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety, millions of workers drive or ride in cars, trucks, and vans as part of their jobs, and crashes are the leading cause of work-related deaths in the United States. From 2003-2014 there were 22,000 work-related motor vehicle deaths in the United States. Vehicle crashes take an emotional and financial toll on workers, their families, businesses, and communities. It is estimated that the cost to U.S. employers for motor vehicle crashes at work is upwards of $25 billion.
With such high stakes involved, keeping workers safer on the road to save lives and money should be a high priority, but what can employers do after their employees leave the parking lot? The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has put together a list of the following strategies for employers:
Assign a key member of the management team to set and enforce driver safety policies.
Enforce mandatory seat belt use.
Do not require workers to drive irregular hours or far beyond their normal working hours.
Do not require workers to conduct business on a cell phone while driving.
Develop work schedules that allow employees to obey speed limits and to follow applicable hours-of-service regulations.
Adopt (and follow) a structured vehicle maintenance program.
Provide company vehicles that offer the highest possible level of occupant protection.
Teach workers strategies for recognizing and managing driver fatigue and in-vehicle distractions.
Provide training to workers operating specialized motor vehicles or equipment.
Emphasize to workers the need to follow safe driving practices on and off the job.
Ensure that workers assigned to drive on the job have a valid driver’s license and one that is appropriate for the type of vehicle to be driven.
Check driving records of prospective employees and perform periodic rechecks after hiring.
Maintain complete and accurate records of workers’ driving performance.
Heads Up Around Construction
Midwestern winters are notoriously hard on roads. The cycle of freezing and thawing, on top of winter salt treatments can deteriorate even the best road surfaces and lead to significant springtime potholes. Although road repairs are a good thing in the long run, in the short run any sort of roadwork can put drivers and road crew workers at risk. To avoid accidents and undue vehicle damage, special care and work zone safety measures should be used when traveling through active work zones. Most problems occur when drivers encounter closed lanes, uneven surfaces, and unexpected obstacles in the roadway. Additionally, heavy equipment moving near traffic can be divert attention and cause distracted driving. It is especially important for drivers to follow posted speed limits and avoid the use of phones or other handheld devices in work zones. Optional equipment, such as Lane Assist can aid in vehicle safety, but the need for the driver to pay attention is essential in any case.
Slow Down and Move Over
Not everyone has heard of it, but the Slow Down and Move Over law was passed in Wisconsin and many other states in order to preserve the safety of emergency responders. Under guidance from the federal highway administration, the law requires motorists and commercial vehicles to move over one lane to the left to provide extra room when EMS, police, fire, DOT vehicles and tow trucks are stopped with their emergency lights activated. The amount of space gained might not seem like much, but one lane of separation from traffic can be lifesaving for a person working on the side of the road.
Staying on schedule and avoiding missed service appointments is an important part of the job for plumbers, electricians, and HVAC service technicians who drive to service calls, and job sites. Keeping work vehicles in good working order will help avoid unexpected delays. Additionally, annual inspections are a great way to identify issues and spot warning signs to prevent mechanical problems before they start. Any issues brought to light should be remedied before the vehicle is put back into service. In addition to yearly maintenance, vehicles should be inspected weekly to be sure that tires are in good shape and inflated to the proper level. Employees should also be encouraged to leave vehicles with a full gas tank to reduce the chance of someone running out of gas on the way to a job.
Business owners should identify the steps that should be taken if a driver encounters road hazards, an accident or bad weather. Providing employees with a list of emergency contact numbers and preferred service providers will make the decisions after an accident easier to make and lead to a better outcome. Similarly, a decision tree concerning the steps that should be taken during adverse weather will provide direction for employees on the road. For instance, during snow emergencies it might be better to stick to main roads since they are more likely to get plowed first.
All service vehicles should include an emergency supply kit that includes a selection of tools and supplies that can be accessed quickly. Each kit should include the following items: jumper cables, a cell phone charger with various adaptors, a blanket, a flashlight, road flares or reflective triangles, a well-stocked first aid kit. In the Midwest, a selection of winter hazard gear such as disposable handwarmers, an ice scraper and kitty litter for traction should also be included.
Use the safety tips and strategies provided in this article to encourage safe driving and vehicle operation on the job and off. With some extra effort, care, and attention, we can make everyone’s time on the road safer.