Steering in the right direction Featured

9:36am EDT July 22, 2002

When it comes to workplace safety, worries about employees falling or cutting themselves while using a piece of machinery should not be at the top of your list.

A greater risk to employees -- and others -- is simply driving company vehicles.

After all, the National Safety Council lists motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of accidental deaths, a term its even changed to "fatal unintentional injuries" in an effort to stress that all accidents could be prevented.

"For the employer, you have employees out there so their safety is of concern [and] the general public's safety is of concern," says Joe Tulga, program manager for the Safety Council of Central Ohio.

Injury or death isn't your only risk when employees are on the road, either.

If you include lost wages and productivity, administrative, medical and employer costs, as well as motor vehicle damage, every fatality resulting from an auto accident costs $980,000 on average and each nonfatal, disabling injury costs $35,600, according to the National Safety Council, which cites 1998 figures. Even in less serious crashes, in which property damage and nondisabling injuries occur, costs average $6,400.

In addition, the image of your company is at risk when you have company vehicles on the road.

"In a way, [the vehicle] is a moving billboard out there, and if you have drivers racing around, it's not good PR for you," Tulga says.

Think your employees have a slim chance of being involved in a crash? Consider this: In Columbus during 1998, one in every 24.4 of 667,252 registered vehicles was involved in a crash, according to the Ohio Insurance Institute, which cites its sources as the Ohio Department of Public Safety and Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

ICI Dulux Paint Centers takes the risks seriously. It requires employees to take a defensive driving course through the National Safety Council -- and renew their certification through the course every two years.

"Our company philosophy is safety is our top priority for our customers and for our staff," says Mark Frost, regional operations manager. "Defensive driving is a tool that's used to help promote awareness. That's what safety is -- it's thinking about it and providing awareness."

Defensive moves

The defensive driving course many businesses take through the Safety Council of Central Ohio is called DDC-4, the 4 standing for the four-hour duration of the course.

Frost says his region has opted to send employees to classes to become trainers. The result is more flexibility in times the company can offer the class as well as more cost effectiveness.

For example, he formerly spent $45 each time he sent one of his nearly 70 employees to the course. Now, Sean McCarthy and another employee in his region provide the training instead. Although it cost ICI $300 for each trainer's certification and another $650 for each teaching kit with materials, the course booklets for each student cost only $2.50.

This means ICI can now train all of its employees in house for less than two-thirds of the $3,150 it would have cost to send each of them to the driving course. The company also saves on the work time it would lose if employees drove to the course instead of taking it on site -- another service the Safety Council offers.

"From people who work in stores to [sales] reps to vice presidents, we cover everybody," McCarthy says. "Whether they drive every day or not in our company vehicles, they are required to take the training."

The course covers rules, regulations, responsibility, vehicle maintenance and driving conditions, Tulga says. For example, it explains the benefit of the three-second rule -- allowing three seconds to elapse before you drive by the same point the car in front of you passed, a method to establish safe following distance.

Attendees learn about antilock braking systems and how to avoid crashes. They also complete a worksheet to show the costs of being involved in a crash.

"You go through driving habits and how to improve on your driving habits and how to recognize hazards," McCarthy says. "It teaches you to be more aware of your surroundings."

Instructors touch on alcohol- and drug-related crashes and share statistics.

"We're not allowed to call them accidents -- they're crashes," McCarthy says. "A traffic crash is not an accident; it is a result of a driver or drivers not doing everything reasonable to avoid the collision."

A continuing journey

Frost could not specifically say what results he's seen from the defensive driving course because overall safety incidents are down in his territory after the implementation of many safety programs -- not just the driving course.

Among other ICI safety procedures:

  • Employees receive forklift training and are certified in the vehicle's use.

  • Gloves and steel-toed boots are required for certain duties.

  • The company holds monthly safety meetings at each paint center; employees often watch safety-related videos and even take tests related to safety issues.

  • Each paint center has an appointed safety contact person who coordinates those meetings and is in charge of doing a monthly store inspection to check everything from the condition of the floor to electrical outlets to fire extinguishers.

  • Each center has a designated safety area, where items such as first aid kits and flashlights are stored.

Another facet: employees are not permitted to use a cellular phone while driving. In fact, they can't even use it if they're riding in a vehicle.

"We're zero tolerance when it comes to safety," Frost says. "When something is abused, like cell phones, termination is the penalty. There isn't room for tolerance when it comes to safety." How to reach: Joe Tulga, program manager, Safety Council of Central Ohio, 225-6092 or joe_tulga@columbus.org; National Safety Council, Defensive Driving Program, www.nsc.org/psg/ddc.htm. Another source of traffic safety information for businesses is the Ohio Partnership for Traffic Safety, 466-3250, www.trafficsafety.org/states/oh/opts.cfm.

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.