Eyes On The Road

DISTRACTED DRIVINGIs Your Distracted-Driving Policy Working?

By Construction Today Staff

A study conducted by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) reveals that nearly 80 percent of vehicle accidents involve driver inattention. Although distracted driving is a common and costly issue, only 27 percent of businesses have a formal distracted-driving policy. Clearly, companies can do more to limit this threat to employee safety and business performance.

Construction Today recently spoke with Travelers President of Construction Rick Keegan and Bob Kreuzer, Travelers’ vice president of construction risk control, who discussed auto risks in the construction industry and how businesses can take a proactive approach to safety.

Construction Today: Why should construction companies take a proactive approach to auto safety in 2017?

Rick Keegan: One major reason to take a proactive approach is because auto-related exposures are one of the biggest risks we see for construction businesses. With every vehicle a company puts on the road, its employees, balance sheet and reputation are at risk. There continues to be an increase in the frequency and severity of auto accidents, and for the first time in nearly a decade, auto-related fatalities are on the rise. Early estimates from the U.S. Department of Transportation suggest this trend is likely to continue because the economy has recovered and the number of miles driven and vehicles on the road has increased. This coupled with distractions caused by texting, mobile apps, GPS, infotainment systems and other technologies, has all contributed to alarming auto liability-related trends. Distracted Driving Policy

For a contractor, these accidents can be costly, especially considering the impact of rising medical and legal expenses. If an employee is injured in an auto accident, it also generates workers compensation exposures. When a business invests in auto safety, it can have a meaningful impact on mitigating these exposures and, in turn, have a positive impact on the total cost of risk.

CT: What steps can construction companies take to recruit qualified commercial drivers? Do the needs or skills required of construction-sector drivers differ from general commercial businesses?

Bob Kreuzer: Our risk control professionals work with a variety of industries, and some of the most successful companies have instilled a proactive safety culture that addresses driving risks.

Understanding a person’s background, including driving history and experience, can help in evaluating prospects. Programs likes the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP), have information available about the driving history of commercial driver candidates. Road testing applicants in conditions they will face on the job is a good way to assess driving skills and behavior. In some cases, driving might only be part of a job, so you should be clear about the driving and non-driving expectations in job descriptions and interviews.

Remember that driving for a construction job can have different risks than other areas of commercial trucking. For example, securing equipment onto a lowboy may go beyond typical driver responsibilities. That makes it more important to be clear about expectations when choosing drivers. Additional load securement training may become an important aspect of onboarding for less experienced drivers.

CT: How can construction employers onboard new drivers and integrate them into their existing safety culture?

Kreuzer: For starters, remember that any employee who drives is exposed to potential accidents and injuries. Historically, we’ve seen severe accidents when employees who don’t typically drive as part of their job take the wheel, even for trips where they do not leave the worksite. This makes it that much more important for management to relay driving behavior expectations.

Selecting the right driver graphic 8.1.14 vicOn-the-job safety training should include both skill-based and awareness-based training. This gives employees technical knowledge and cultural awareness of why safety practices are important. Skill-based training shows the actual hands-on procedures of a task, such as driving, whereas awareness-based training includes general policies, hazard recognition and expectations for maintaining a safe work environment.

CT: How does a business implement new measures to encourage and monitor driver safety?

Kreuzer: An effective safety culture must start with senior management. When the culture is embraced by supervisors and seen by employees, it can make a big difference. It’s also important for a safety program to maintain consistent expectations across all levels of the organization. If senior management takes a “do as I say, not as I do” approach to addressing bad driving habits, it could undermine efforts to discourage employees from the same behavior.

It’s smart to have a system for reviewing motor vehicle records for all identified drivers annually. That way, drivers with poor driving records can be proactively identified with a simple motor vehicle record check.

CT: How widespread is telematics technology adoption in the construction industry?

Keegan: Vehicle telematics is gaining traction in construction. GPS Insights’ 2016–2017 Fleet Management Technology Report notes that 41 percent of construction fleets are now fitted with telematics.

Having a clear strategy for what to do with the information generated by telematics will help contractors ensure follow-up on driving patterns, whether it’s tracking employee behavior or efficiency, or influencing driver management and coaching programs. Our work with VTTI reveals a link between effective driver behavior management systems and reductions to risky driving behavior, but this is only true when the business successfully uses the information it has gathered to coach drivers on how to improve safety.

It’s very important for businesses to understand that telematics systems create additional responsibility for their business. Some jurisdictions will recognize failure to act on telematics data that reveal unsafe driver behaviors as a basis for corporate liability in the event of an accident.

CT: What insurance products should construction businesses consider to limit their financial liability and that of their drivers?

Keegan: First and foremost, carrying excess limits above a contractor’s primary auto policy helps ensure there is sufficient coverage to protect a company in the event of a serious loss. Construction-related auto claims can be severe and can generate exposure well in excess of a company’s primary limits.

Having the appropriate non-owned auto coverage will also help protect contractors with employees who drive their own vehicles for business purposes. If an employee gets in an accident when using their own vehicle for a job-related task, potential liability for contractors may follow, as the lines between business and personal use are blurred.

A contractor’s day-to-day operations can have differing statutory requirements, especially when considering the variety of locations, travel requirements, vehicle types and mobile equipment commonly found in the industry. Working closely with an insurance carrier and agent or broker that specializes in construction risks to review your insurance program each year helps to proactively mitigate these risks and financial responsibilities, not only through the purchase of insurance, but also through training programs and on-site consultations. 

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