Two prominent news items I read this week, both related to driving incidents, are potential reminders that having employees on the road can be a significant risk. They also make me hope for early adoption of autonomous driving technologies, but that is a subject for another day.
Unless you were under a rock or completely absorbed in the Final Four this past week, you are no doubt aware of the tragic accident that occurred near Concan, TX that killed 13 people. A 20-year-old man, driving a large “dual rear wheel”, or dually, pickup truck, crossed the yellow line on a highway curve and ran head on into a small bus carrying 14 people, all who were members of a rural Texas church. Both vehicles were traveling at about 65MPH when the collision occurred. The twenty-year-old was injured but survived. 12 people on the bus died instantly, another succumbed at the hospital.
Witnesses tell us the driver of the pickup, who had been driving erratically enough to warrant two calls to the police prior to the collision, repeatedly said he was sorry at the scene of the accident, and confessed that he had been texting when it occurred.
It is very difficult for me to find any sympathy for this person. His selfish, reckless and ignorant behavior has shattered the lives of dozens, if not hundreds of people. Certainly, he will pay a price for his actions. He will very likely face numerous moving violations in addition to a multitude of murder or negligent homicide charges. His life is likely over.
I need to note that in Texas, his texting behavior was not against the law. While there is a bill being debated in the Texas legislature currently that would outlaw texting while driving, its passage was not guaranteed. Well, it wasn't guaranteed until last week. Experts there are now predicting, in light of this tragedy, that the new law will make it on the books.
However, I can tell you from personal experience here in Florida, where texting while driving has been illegal for some time, the law will not make a damn bit of difference. I see it virtually every day on my work commutes and out running errands. Idiots and morons aplenty rolling down the road with a phone stuck in front of their face. No laws will make a difference in this situation; only education, and frankly public intolerance, will change this particular behavior.
That is where employers must step in.
Some of these idiots and morons are on the job, driving for the benefit of their employer. It hasn't been disclosed, but what if that dually pickup belonged to that yoho's employer? What will be the ramifications for a company that owned that truck, and employed that driver?
The second article I referenced isn't much better (with the small exception that fortunately nobody died). Last week police arrested a trucker they say drove nonstop from Seattle to Massachusetts fueled by crystal meth, LSD and cocaine. Police responded to a convenience store parking lot near Deerfield, MA over reports of a trucker who appeared to be despondent after locking himself out of his cab. Responding officers determined the driver was displaying signs of drug use; that and the guy told them he had been using drugs.
They say he had driven cross country with no rest, and that he kept himself going with the various illicit drugs I mentioned previously. He was charged with operating under the influence of drugs and several motor vehicle violations, and taken to the hospital after what police describe as “quite the struggle.”
Here's a silly question: This guy is probably looking for a job. Any takers? Who wants to hire this paragon of virtue to haul their crap across the country? Nobody? Well, recognizing the possibility that he could be an independent, certainly someone has hired him in the past. And someone would likely own the tragic accident he could someday cause.
And by the way, driving a fully loaded semi-truck while high on crystal meth, LSD and cocaine is also illegal, but like texting, some still insist on doing it.
So, for employers, what should they do to make sure issues like these don't crop up to haunt them? I can recommend three things; education, technology and zero tolerance. It is more complex for drug related driving issues, but clear policies, including drug testing can help. Technology should be employed to monitor fleet activity. And employers should not accept excuses where safety is concerned.
In the realm of texting, educating your employees as to the dangers is a logical first step. Documenting that process is also critical. Technology can easily be deployed as well. When it comes to texting and driving, believe it or not, there is an app for that. Actually, there are several apps for that. These blocking apps disable text and other distracting functions on company owned cell phones when the phone recognizes it is traveling. And finally, zero tolerance – which is exactly what it sounds like. Ban employee texting while operating moving equipment, and fire them when they violate the rules. Set those expectations, and your correlated risk will drop. Too often the after product of a work injury includes the revelation that others knew of a dangerous behavior prior, but failed to do anything to correct the situation. Zero tolerance can address that in a very quick fashion.
Ultimately, employers should not make excuses. You are either going to own a situation, or the situation will end up owning you. Those are not the same things. Going to watch a circus is one thing; suddenly discovering you own the circus is quite another.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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