Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Driver Safety Is No Distraction

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Driver Safety Is No Distraction

Article excerpt

Once at the top of OSHA's rulemaking agenda, driving safely has fallen off the list, but deaths and injuries to workers continue.

Asked what is the leading cause of on- the-job fatalities, most safety and health managers would know the answer. That is because "highway crashes" have had this dubious honor for a number of years. In 1999, 1,491 workers lost their lives in such incidents, some one-fourth of all work-related fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A decade ago, motor vehicle safety was a rulemaking priority for the Bush administration. Then-Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole, a former secretary of transportation, and OSHA chief Jerry Scannell, a safety professional who had instituted a driver safety program at Johnson & Johnson, were enthusiastic advocates for taking action to reduce the highway carnage.

The OSHA standard, in addition to driver safety awareness training for all employees who drove routinely on company business, would have required companies to make seat belt use for their employees mandatory. "The evidence is clear and profound -- seat belts save lives and reduce the severity of injuries, and that is the purpose of the job safety rule we are proposing ... ," Dole said.

Business organizations quickly took a dislike to the proposed standard, arguing that the Department of Transportation (DOT) was the appropriate agency to regulate driver safety and that a majority of states already had seat belt laws on the books.

Dole's departure for the Red Cross-took some steam out of the effort, the incoming Clinton Administration turned to fighting against OSHA reform and for ergonomics, and motor vehicle safety fell off the agency's rulemaking agenda.

Despite OSHA's lack of action, the situation has improved in the intervening years. Fatalities have dropped from approximately 2,000 a year to the nearly 1,500 last year. Unfortunately, that is an increase from the average of 1,374 deaths a year from 1994-98.

No organization is immune from the cost of motor vehicle crashes. When AAA surveyed employees in its national office, 38 percent of them reported that they, a family member or a friend had been involved in a crash during the past year. DOT estimates that motor vehicle crashes cost employers more than $50 billion a year.

In addition to traditional problems such as speeding and drunk driving that have plagued the nation's roads, a new menace has taken center stage -- driver distraction. …

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