By Member T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH
“Safety should not be a competitive advantage.”
That’s the message I keep in mind every time I visit groups that represent employers, like the Network of Employers for Transportation Safety (NETS) which focuses on highway safety, or when I meet with the executives at individual companies, who may use many different modes of transportation for their businesses.
The NTSB is a unique federal agency because we are completely independent. Our agency has one simple but noble purpose: to prevent transportation-related deaths and injuries. We are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to investigate accidents, assist victims’ families, develop factual records, and recommend changes to make transportation safer. Unlike many government agencies, the NTSB has no regulatory authority, and we have no financial incentives to promote our safety recommendations. Our daily decision-making is guided by our values of integrity, transparency, independence, and excellence. We undertake investigations and make recommendations for the sole purpose of preventing future transportation disasters.
Employers are uniquely positioned to meaningfully advance the recommendations that we make at the NTSB. Over the years, we’ve issued over 14,000 safety recommendations to over 2,300 recipients, many of which are employers or groups that represent them. We know that if employers voluntarily implement our recommendations, our transportation system will be much safer. We’ve issued business-relevant recommendations related to installing recorder technology, developing fatigue management plans, requiring medical fitness, and many more—most of which are on our Most Wanted List (MWL).
Employers have a responsibility to address transportation safety. Nowhere is this more evident than for employers with vehicle fleets. Many employers develop policies and procedures to keep their staff safe on the roads because they know that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among workers in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2003–2015, there were more than 23,000 work-related motor vehicle deaths in the United States. The issues on our MWL, if addressed by employers, can help reduce this unfortunate statistic.
One way employers have helped advance safety—and can continue to do so—is by promoting evidence-based interventions like lowering the illegal BAC (blood alcohol concentration) to .05 (g/dL) or lower and implementing primary seat belt laws in the communities they serve. More than 10,000 people die in alcohol-related crashes every year. We’ve recently received attention because of our efforts to end impaired driving and our recommendation to change BAC laws from .08 to .05 BAC or lower. Many peer-reviewed studies have shown that such a law would prevent impaired‑driving crashes. While commercial drivers already are required to comply with a .04 BAC limit, employers can be an important influence in the lives of their employees, as well as in the communities in which they operate, by educating their employees and spreading the word about the effectiveness of a .05 BAC law.
Safety-conscious employers were some of the first and most vocal supporters of preventing distracted driving, long before distraction was a popular topic. Good companies didn’t just talk about distracted driving, they took action—as I’ve seen firsthand—to educate their employees and to change polices to prevent distracted driving.
American companies with large fleets also have been some of the most vocal supporters of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety. They have worked hard to support international road safety, and have contributed to nontraditional traffic safety efforts, like helmet campaigns and infrastructure programs that improve the road environment, especially around schools.
Employers should also consider bringing vehicles with collision avoidance technology into their company fleets. Systems such as collision warning and automatic emergency braking help keep drivers safe by mitigating or even preventing crashes. Employers could install onboard vehicle monitoring systems and recording devices, such as cameras, to help monitor driving activity and unsafe practices. These technologies require an investment, but that investment will go a long way toward reducing insurance and workers’ compensation costs—and ultimately toward preventing injuries and saving lives.
There are many employers already considering and incorporating these technologies to improve safety; however, the more who join these industry leaders, the more lives will be saved. We can’t overstate the influence employers have, not just on their employees, but on their employees’ families and on their entire communities. Employer support of safety initiatives can be far-reaching. Companies that make safety a priority tend to have employees who make safety a priority. What employees learn about safety—whether related to distracted, impaired, or fatigued driving, or the value of collision avoidance technologies in vehicles—goes home to their families and spreads beyond to the entire community. Employers already have made a positive difference in many areas of traffic safety and employers will be vital to the effort to achieve zero deaths on our roads.
For more information on motor vehicle safety at work, visit the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/motorvehicle/resources/crashdata/facts.html