Approximately one in every 100,000 workers dies annually in vehicle accidents. Eleven percent of these occur in construction. A number of studies have been done to determine the causes. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published a report highlighting these causes. Suggestions offered by NIOSH for reducing fatalities are posted on the Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) Web site and are offered here. In addition, recommendations are offered on specific driving techniques for driving defensively.

The most significant causes for accidents will come as no surprise. They include speeding, driving inattentively, failure to stop at traffic lights or signs, failure to stay in the lane, following too closely, and failure to yield the right of way. The problems associated with excessive speeds are the speed of the vehicle as it relates to the posted limits and driving conditions. In one study, the failure to slow down in a construction work zone was cited separately as a major factor.

The “driving inattentively” factor includes a number of more specific causes. They are eating, reading, talking and using the phone while driving and also driving while fatigued. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to establish statistics on these individually. Data collection methods vary by state. For example, only 15 states are required to collect information on cell phone involvement on police vehicle-accident reports. This does not mean the effect of cell phone use is not important. NIOSH/OSHA's recommendations have included it.

OSHA's first recommendation is that vehicle/driver safety policies be established. A management leader should be assigned the responsibility for and given the authority needed to establish and enforce the policies. Mandatory seat belt use should be at the top of the list. Although it is not the cause of accidents, its use is critical to an effective injury-prevention program. Limiting the use of cell phones and adherence to speed limits should also be included. Be sure to consider work schedules to ensure the policies are practical. Employees cannot be required to work irregular hours or meet high-productivity goals incompatible with the Department of Transportation's “hours of service” limitations for commercial drivers or local speed limits. A policy statement on restricting alcohol consumption before or during vehicle use is a must.

Fleet management is another aspect of the recommendations. Establish a structured vehicle maintenance program. When selecting company vehicles, look for those that provide the greatest protection to the occupants. Have drivers perform pre- and post-trip inspections of the vehicle.

Develop a vehicle program that includes effective employee safety training on the vehicles used as well as the hazards associated with driving. Employees should be trained to recognize and manage driver fatigue. In-vehicle distractions should be highlighted during the training. Training should also address changes in vehicle performance under different conditions. Encourage employees to apply the safe driving practices learned on the job to their personal driving activities off the job.

Establish criteria for employees allowed to drive. Make sure workers asigned to drive on the job have a current valid driver's license for the vehicle to be driven. Check their performance. Get permission to look up their driving record and periodically review it. Maintain complete and accurate records of performance.

Regardless of the actions taken by your company, employees must consider the “other guy.” They need to anticipate his actions. It is the only way to avoid accidents such as rear-end crashes. Other drivers may not observe the traffic laws.

Employees need to recognize and react to accident-causing factors. They should watch for erratic behavior. Indications of an intoxicated driver could include a car that is weaving or responding slowly to traffic signs. The employees should avoid the driver by turning right at the nearest corner or exiting at the nearest exit. If the car crosses into their lane, they should pull over to the side of the road, sound the horn and flash their lights. If other drivers are following too closely, your employees should slow down and give warning before stopping.

Another general defensive precaution is following at a safe distance. Typical guidelines are one vehicle length for every 10 miles per hour or a three-second following distance. This needs to be adjusted based on the road and weather conditions in addition to the vehicle used.

Teach your employees to follow the rules of the road and avoid contests for the right of way. Your drivers represent the company. Being respectful of other drivers will save lives and will leave a positive impression. EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or joconnor@intecweb.com.