The U.S. Department of Labor (DoL), through its Occupational Health Safety Administration (OHSA) has announced that it will specifically target the problem of Distracted Driving, in conjunction with the Department of Transport.
The focus of this attack will be on Occupational Health and Safety aspects, in particular the responsibility and liability on employers to provide a safe working enviornment for their workforce.
Announcing the strategy, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis stated:
“The OSHA Act is clear — employers must provide a workplace free of serious recognized hazards.
“It is well recognized that texting while driving dramatically increases the risk of a motor vehicle injury or fatality.
“It is imperative that employers eliminate financial or other incentives that encourage workers to text while driving.
“Employers who require their employees to text while driving — or who organize work so that doing so is a practical necessity even if not a formal requirement – violate the OSHA Act.
“Furthermore, we call upon all employers to follow the lead of President Obama, Secretary LaHood and 30 state laws that prohibit drivers from texting — to prohibit their employees from texting while driving for work.”
Whilst the inital emphasis of this move is aimed at texting and driving, all work-related activity that can cause driver distraction should be viewed in the same light. In particular, use of laptops or other computer devices in the vehicle presents the same (potentially more intrusive) distraction issues as cellphone use.
The agencies will be taking a multi-faceted approach to address these issues, and it seems highly likely that specifc measures to target in-vehicle computer use will be evolved.
See Secretary Solis’ announcement.
Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for their employees, and this responsibility includes the vehicles that their workforce uses. Accidents caused by distraction while using computers for work-related purposes could expose the employer to punitive action, and also potentially make the employer liable for prosecution and compensation to third parties, if shown to be negligent.