Most of us have sent a text while driving, and we all know that this practice can be dangerous. This is as true on the rural roads of America, as it is on the busiest of freeways. It is no surprise, with all of our technological distractions, that motor vehicle crashes are consistently the leading cause of worker fatalities. It is also no surprise that OSHA has taken notice of this issue and is taking action. OSHA is prepared to start issuing citations and fines to employers for distracted driving by employees.
OSHA has created the “Distracted Driving Initiative,” to combat distracted drivers. OSHA’s first focus is on texting while driving. Texting is perceived as more hazardous than talking on a cell phone, because drivers take their eyes off the road when they text.
David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA, spoke at a symposium on April 18, 2011 and said OSHA is prepared to start issuing citations and fines to employers for distracted driving by employees who text when they drive. Employers will be held responsible if they create a situation where employees are required to use their phones while driving, or have a strong incentive to do so, and that conduct results in an accident that causes personal damage. OSHA does not plan to enact a new rule or standard under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Instead, OSHA will pursue texting fines under the Act’s “general duty” clause, which requires employers to provide a safe workplace free of recognized hazards.
OSHA is calling on employers to create a text-free zone by prohibiting employees from texting while driving for work. President Obama has already done so for federal workers. He signed an Executive Order in 2009 which bans federal employees from texting while driving on the job or using government equipment. In addition, more than half the states currently have some type of law that limits cell phone use by drivers.
Employers should review current policies to ensure they do not require employees to text while driving for their jobs. Employers should also organize the work of their employees so that texting while driving is not a practical necessity.