Distracted Driving: A Don’t on Jobsites and in Work Zones

by Melanie Baravik
April 12, 2018

National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW) takes place in April, which also happens to be Distracted Driving Awareness Month. That makes it the perfect time to talk about distracted driving on the jobsite and in work zones. Whether your employees are operating equipment or their own vehicle, they should be aware of the dangers of distracted driving.

In 2018, cell phone use in the workplace is ubiquitous and often necessary. You can’t leave your phone at home or shut it off and ignore it if you need it to do your job. But that doesn’t mean it’s always appropriate to use your phone or other electronics.  Even a moment of distraction can end in tragedy, so don’t leave NWZAW in April. In accordance with this year’s theme, “Work Zone Safety: Everyone’s Responsibility,” take what you learn this week and apply it every time you get behind the wheel or in the cab.

State laws and campaigns against texting and driving

In nearly every state, texting while behind the wheel is against the law. Only three states — Missouri, Arizona and Montana — don’t completely ban texting and driving (though in Missouri, it’s against the law if you’re under 21). Bans against talking on a handheld phone while driving aren’t as widespread, though many states ban it for younger drivers, in school zones or in construction zones. Still other states ban both talking and texting and driving for younger drivers and provisional license holders.

And though not every state has enacted legislation explicitly banning talking or texting behind the wheel, there are many campaigns against it. In Missouri, a state with few restrictions on driving and cell phone use, the state Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety started the Buckle Up, Phone Down (#BUPD) campaign. The message flashes on LED signs across the state, reminding drivers to resist distracted driving. In Texas, one in five crashes involve distracted driving, spurring TxDOT’s annual Talk, Text, Crash campaign and a complete ban on reading, writing and sending texts while driving.

Establish a cell phone policy

When it comes to construction, OSHA specifically prohibits crane and derricks operators from cell phone use while operating the machines, unless the phone is being used for signal communications. To make things easy, you might opt to have that rule apply to all equipment operators. Regardless, ensure operators are trained on how to safely use their cell phones in the cab.

At a minimum, drivers of company vehicles need to obey state distracted driving laws — but that might not be best for their safety or your business’s reputation. The safest option is to eliminate a big distraction with a complete ban on cell phone use while driving; a ban on texting and driving is encouraged by OSHA. The agency also prohibits any incentives that encourage texting and driving — no procedure should make it necessary for employees to text and drive. And if you haven’t yet developed a cell phone use policy for your operators and drivers, there’s no better time than NWZAW and Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Avoid distractions

It’s virtually never a good time to use your cell phone or other electronics unrelated to the task when you’re operating a vehicle or heavy machinery. Answering texts, checking emails and returning phone calls is best done outside the cab and in a traffic-free area. Distractions can be avoided by putting cell phones on silent or turning them off while operating a machine or a vehicle. If you tend to pick up or look at your phone reflexively, put it in the back seat or somewhere hard to reach. When you’re using GPS, set your destination before you start driving.

Cell phones aren't just a dangerous distraction for drivers. If you’re working on foot, only use your phone when you’re far from any traffic zones. Avoid walking around while staring down at your phone — it’s a great way to trip and fall or walk into the path of a machine. And when driving in a work zone, whether in a company vehicle or your own, make safety your responsibility by slowing down, obeying signs and keeping your eyes on the road.

Lead by example

Don’t just talk about work zone and distracted driving awareness — walk the talk. Being a leader on the jobsite means setting an example for best safety practices. Put your phone down when you’re driving and follow work zone speed limits. Train employees thoroughly on the phone use policy and repeat training as often as necessary. It doesn’t hurt to recognize employees who avoid distracted driving on the jobsite. That can help to foster a safety-first culture and show that you notice when safety procedures are being followed.

Distracted driving is a danger that’s nowhere close to being eliminated — it’s illegal for Wisconsin drivers to use cell phones in work zones, but there were 271 convictions for breaking the law during its first year in effect. According to the NHTSA, 3,477 traffic fatalities in 2015 were caused by distracted driving. Washington state banned handheld phone use last July, and since then, around 1,500 drivers have been ticketed every month for violating the law.

Those statistics make it obvious why this is such an important safety topic. The permanence and prevalence of cell phones means taking steps to prevent the negative side effects that come with using them. In construction, that means educating employees, establishing safety policies and doing your part to keep everyone safe on the road and in the work zone.

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