By Brent I. ClarkAdam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently released its Behind the Wheel at Work Newsletter with the “latest news from the NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety.”   

We have blogged previously that NIOSH, in its Science Blog, has related that vehicle crashes are a leading cause of occupational fatalities, with “1,252 deaths of vehicle drivers and passengers on public roads in 2016. In 2013, on-the-job crashes cost employers over $25 billion and led to 155,000 lost work days.”

The NIOSH Newsletter links to the presentation by Kyla Retzer, Assistant Coordinator of the NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety, which offers “components of a good road safety program” in a recent video from the 2019 International Association of Drilling Contractors Safety, Environment & Training Conference & Exhibition.

The Newsletter also offers an outline for how an employer’s top-level managers need to “commit to motor vehicle safety.”  NIOSH stated that “it’s not just a matter of sending an encouraging email to drivers and hoping that things will change.”  NIOSH encourages employers to commit by:

  • Affirming motor vehicle safety as a core company value;
  • Defining motor vehicle roles and expectations for all involved (executives, upper and middle managers, fleet safety professionals, first-line supervisors, and drivers), and holding them accountable;
  • Providing enough staff and resources to run the program; and
  • “Walking the walk:” If executives use their phones while driving or don’t use seat belts, drivers will not comply with company policies that tell them to do something different.

The Newsletter suggested that research shows that commitment to motor vehicle safety by top management was linked to:

  • Safer driving-related behaviors as reported by drivers, including: fewer driving errors, fewer violations of traffic laws or company safety policies; and lower levels of distracted, impaired, and fatigued driving;
  • More positive perceptions of company safety culture among drivers; and
  • Lower rates of worker injuries in motor vehicle crashes.

For employers, it is important to have safety programs in place that protect employees. Those protect employees against employee  injuries, lost income, and finding replacement personnel.  Federal OSHA normally will not open inspections solely relating to motor vehicle crashes in public roads.  However, motor vehicle accidents that occur in construction zones are a different story.  They are regulated by OSHA, and fatalities and serious injuries need to be reported.  Inspections and citations may follow.

Enforcement of compliance safety rules and a strong safety culture are essential to workplace safety and preserving the company’s defenses to an OSHA citation.  As part of an OSHA accident inspection, the Agency likely will review the employer’s policy documents and training materials, and will likely interview the injured employee about her training and understanding of the materials.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team.