News

Frank Marino, CSP •

OSHA Now Weighing in on Texting and Driving

Texting has become a daily activity for many CRCA contractors. Its also become apparent in our society the dangers of texting; specifically while driving. OSHA is now getting involved in an effort to protect employees across the country. While we experience fewer fatalities in the workplace today, the leading cause of worker fatalities year after year are motor vehicle crashes; distracted driving dramatically increases the risk of such crashes. The Department of Labor through OSHA is partnering with the Department of Transportation to combat distracted driving.

OSHA will first focus on texting while driving. Texting while driving greatly increases the risk of being injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash. Prohibiting texting while driving is the subject of the Executive Order signed by President Obama last year for Federal employees, and the subject of rulemaking by the Department of Transportation.  OSHA is calling upon all employers to prohibit any work policy or practice that requires or encourages workers to text while driving. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) is clear—employers must provide a workplace free of serious recognized hazards. It is well recognized that texting while driving dramatically increases the risk of a motor vehicle injury or fatality. OSHA goes as far as to say it's imperative that employers eliminate financial or other incentives that encourage workers to text while driving. Employers who require their employees to text while driving—or who organize work so that doing so is a practical necessity even if not a formal requirement - violates the OSH Act.

OSHA is looking for employers to follow the lead of President Obama, the Department of Transportation and 30 state laws that prohibit drivers from texting—to prohibit their employees from texting while driving for work.

OSHA is launching a multi-pronged initiative that will include the following:

  • An education campaign to employers, launched during Drive Safely Work Week, calling on employers to prevent occupationally related distracted driving—with a special focus on prohibiting texting while driving;
  • Forge alliances with the National Safety Council and other key organizations to help us reach out to employers, especially small employers, to combat distracted driving and prohibit texting while driving;
  • When OSHA receives a credible complaint that an employer requires texting while driving or who organizes work so that texting is a practical necessity, OSHA will investigate and where necessary issue citations and penalties to end this practice.

In addition to OSHA’s involvement, a growing number of lawsuits have resulted in significant awards against employers when their employees are involved in automobile crashes while using a cell phone. Examples of such are listed below.

  • $21.6M: A jury found the employer liable where the employee driving a company car rear‐ended another vehicle while she was talking with her husband on a cell phone, causing that vehicle to cross into oncoming traffic. The ensuing accident resulted in a fatality.
  • $21M: A jury found the employer liable when its employee, driving a company car, was talking on her cell phone using a hands‐free headset and struck another vehicle broadside, seriously injuring the other driver.
  • $4.1M: The employee of an electrical contractor was lost and using the GPS on his cell phone while driving a company car. He ran a red light and seriously injured a 70‐year‐old woman.
  • $750,000: An employee was involved in a crash while on his way to work. The court held the employer liable although the employee was off‐the‐clock, because there was evidence the employee was involved in a cell phone conversation regarding company business at the time of the crash. The employer decided to settle the case while the jury was deliberating.

The content listed in this article should be enough for all CRCA contractors to take this issue seriously. It all begins with understanding the impact of using cell phones while driving can have on your business as well as the wellbeing of your employees. For more information about texting and driving, visit www.OSHA.gov.

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