By Brent I. ClarkJames L. Curtis, Mark A. Lies, IIAdam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: OSHA reminds employers of the hazards of distracted driving. 

OSHA has recently released a “Guidelines for Employers to Reduce Motor Vehicle Crashes.”  OSHA states that “every 12 minutes someone dies in a motor vehicle crash, every 10 seconds an injury occurs and every 5 seconds a crash occurs.  Many of these incidents occur during the workday or during the commute to and from work.  Employers bear the cost for injuries that occur both on and off the job. Whether you manage a fleet of vehicles, oversee a mobile sales force or simply employ commuters, by implementing a driver safety program in the workplace you can greatly reduce the risks faced by your employees and their families while protecting your company’s bottom line.”

OSHA also publishes a Distracted Driving Initiative poster, in which it targets texting as a major cause of workplace injuries.  Previously, in an open letter to employers, then OSHA Administrator Dr. Michaels said, “it is your responsibility and legal obligation to have a clear, unequivocal and enforced policy against texting while driving….Companies are in violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act if, by policy or practice, they require texting while driving, or create incentives that encourage or condone it, or they structure work so that texting is a practical necessity for workers to carry out their jobs. OSHA will investigate worker complaints, and employers who violate the law will be subject to citations and penalties.”  According to OSHA, it has used its General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, to issue citations and proposed penalties in these circumstances.  OSHA considers “distracted driving” to be a “recognized hazard” in the industry under the General Duty Clause to employee safety.

While OSHA has updated its distracted driving website, distracted driving is not a new issue. We have blogged previously and frequently on the hazard of distracted driving.  See Cell Phones at the Workplace: Protecting Employee Safety, Employees Using Cellphones And Other Portable Devices While Driving: Should Employers Ban This Completely?, National Safety Council Congress Session on Driving Safety – The Missing Link in Your Company Safety and Health Management Systems, Employees Driving In Illinois? What Employers Need to Know, Have Yourself a Safe, Undistracted, and Accident Free Holiday, President Declares “National Impaired Driving Prevention Month”.

Employers whose businesses require the use of cars, vans or trucks should consider developing written policies and documented training of employees on the safe operation of those vehicles, including a clear prohibition against texting on a hand held cell phone while driving. Failure to address this potential hazard can result in significant employer liability under OSHA and in tort litigation.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) or Workplace Policies and Handbooks Teams.