Distracted Driving, Violence and Drug Use Contribute to Workplace Fatalities

Original story published here.

The number of annual workplace fatalities rose for the third consecutive year in 2016, according to data recently released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Distracted driving, workplace violence and drug overdoses are key issues that contributed to the rising numbers.

Distracted Driving Dangers

The most common fatal events resulted from work transportation incidents, which represented 40 percent of workplace fatalities in 2016, according to BLS statistics.

Distracted drivers using their smartphones, the high number of delivery drivers on the road and the popularity of ride-sharing services in recent years are all factors that contribute to workplace transportation incidents, said Aaron Gelb, an attorney with Conn Maciel Carey in Chicago.

Distracted driving is a serious issue with several risk factors, said Phillip Russell, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Tampa, Fla. Workers who drive for their employer pose a risk to themselves and others by texting, e-mailing or talking on the phone while driving, but other distracted drivers also pose a risk to workers.

This is particularly an issue for work zone safety, he added. Construction crewmembers and street maintenance workers can be seriously injured or killed by distracted drivers.

Gelb suggested that businesses that employ drivers have a policy informing workers not to use devices while they are behind the wheel and that employers should have procedures in place telling drivers what to do if they have to take a call. "Employers need to train people on the procedures and enforce their policies," he added.

This is where distracted driving technologies like eBrake, coupled with education and a strong corporate safe driving policy can really make a difference in reducing crashes, deaths and associated liability costs for employers.

eBrake is a brand new distracted driving technology for smartphones that locks the device when motion is detected and provides an augmented reality-based 'Unlock Test' that a driver physically cannot complete while driving. No hardware required. Passenger friendly. Drivers blocked from device use.

Workplace Violence

There were 500 workplace homicides and 291 on-the-job suicides in 2016. "This is the highest homicide figure since 2010 and the most suicides since the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries began reporting data in 1992," according to the BLS report.

Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn't have a federal rule on preventing workplace violence, the agency does have guidelines and recommended practices on how to reduce workers' exposure to violent incidents.

Some states—including California—do have workplace violence prevention rules for certain industries, such as health care. Gelb said he wouldn't be surprised to see more states follow suit.

Regardless of legal requirements, employers should consider having a security plan in place that deters violence and mitigates risks in the event of an incident.

Best Practices

"Most employers have good safety policies and safety training, but employers nationwide can do a substantially better job of enforcing the policies they already have," Russell said.

HR can partner with the in-house legal, safety and operations teams to develop programs that recognize and reward safe practices and provide discipline for unsafe behavior, he added, noting that it is essential to provide both recognition and discipline.