Roofers on the Road
In 1989, there were 47,575 occupational vehicular accidents and fatalities. By 1999, 3.2 million Americans were injured and more than 15,000 killed (including 5,000 pedestrians) annually in vehicle accidents. In 1995, Congress legislated that highway accident and fatality statistics, normally registered by the Federal Highway Administration, should be segregated into occupational and non-occupational-related categories. The work-related automobile accidents, injuries and fatalities would be recorded under the Occupational Safety and Health statistics by means of the OSHA 200 log.
Almost immediately, OSHA’s leading category for injuries and deaths became vehicle related. In 1995, work-related deaths caused by motor vehicles were 20 percent of the total occupational fatalities at 1,232. This led homicides (1,063) and struck-by accidents (1,039). Over half of the decedents were either riding or driving in a truck at the time of the incident. Almost 40 percent involved young drivers 16 to 25 years old. A quarter of the total fatalities were in another vehicle struck by a truck.
It is apparent that by the time most of the conditions leading up to an accident are noticed, it is often too late to correct them. With the vast majority of roofers traveling to and from the job sites in trucks, whether company vehicles or their own, these statistics should reasonably send cold chills down every roofing contractor’s spine.
Driver Hazard IdentificationContractors should assume that all of the licensed drivers in their employ are capable of taking control of either a company vehicle or their own vehicle in the performance of their work duties on any given day. Once they leave the yard, they are on their own and anything could happen. Therefore, the employer should be as knowledgeable about an employee’s driving record and skills as possible.
Put a photocopy of the employee’s current driver’s license in a personnel file.
Determine if the license classification is adequate for the vehicles used.
Request a copy of an employee’s DMV records for the last three years (privacy and state department of labor rights should always be investigated first).
Determine which employees are using their personal vehicles for work purposes and notify your insurance agent.
Since every state considers the right to be a licensed driver a privilege rather than a right, as an employer you should be at least as diligent. If you issue a company vehicle to an employee to use as transportation to and from his home and work, as well as on the job site, you should develop a written statement of agreement, prohibiting personal use of the vehicle or any function other than work-related tasks. Have your employees sign it and keep it on file.
Driving Skills AssessmentBeyond record and license inspection, an employer’s challenge is to actually assess each licensed employee for the competent skills to inspect and operate a motor vehicle. I have encountered drivers holding Class I commercial licenses with little or no practical over-the-road experience. In some cases, commercial vehicle operators hauling heavy equipment had little or no knowledge of safe trailer-hauling procedures.
Contractors who have commercial full-time drivers employed should become familiar with their state rules and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (Greenbook).
- Keep your professional drivers currently trained, randomly drug tested and medically evaluated according to codes and their corporate safety programs.
- Enroll all of your employees in a defensive driving course with the National Safety Council or AAA. Insurance reductions are always available.
- Whether a new hire or a veteran driver, a documented evaluation of their operational skills is strongly recommended on a regular basis.
- Take a “surprise” ride with a random driver occasionally to determine the state of your driver-training program. Be sure to observe the general condition and cleanliness of the vehicle; pre-trip vehicle inspection; highway driving skills; secondary roadway driving skills; onsite and pedestrian awareness level; and nighttime and foul-weather driving skills.
- Design and construct a road and yard exercise (low-cost and feasible), to identify the driver’s actual skill levels, abilities and weaknesses, including: material handling and rigging; load security; congestion, traffic and pedestrian hazards; hazardous material practices; trailer loading and towing techniques; proper fueling procedures; and spill clean-up.
Submit a copy of your corporate vehicle policy to your insurance agency, indicating the efforts you have undertaken to reduce your hazardous exposure on the road and thereby reduce insurance losses. With some adjustments in your program, you may have a good case for an insurance premium reduction.
Vehicle InspectionEvery commercial vehicle over 10,000 gvw traveling over federal, state or local highways is required to comply with DOT regulations and may potentially undergo a weight check, roadside inspection and documentation review. Meanwhile, out on the interstate, your 3/4-ton company pickup trucks drives by, virtually unregulated. A regularly scheduled inspection of every company vehicle should become every contractor’s goal. During the height of the building season (when they could be on the job six or seven days a week) this often proves difficult. In addition to the pre-shift and pre-trip driver’s inspection, consider hiring or subcontracting a second shift mechanic and mechanic’s inspections and minor repairs right on the job site.
While there are many such services for over-the-road firms across the country, it would certainly be possible for a contractor to set up a program on a smaller scale. Some contractors have rented a replacement vehicle for several months that was rotated from job to job as the company trucks were brought in for service and inspection.
OSHA considers the employer not liable to provide safe and reliable transportation for a transient construction worker who leaves home and drives to a remote construction site every day. But if he or she is required by the employer to stop en route to pick up tools or materials for work, or bring home tools and equipment nightly for security reasons, then this travel now becomes OSHA regulated. The employee’s vehicle is now a potential liability for the employer.
The employer should make an effort to identify these situations with his supervisor and either provide an inspected company vehicle or inspect the employee’s truck to make sure it is compliant and in safe operating condition. Inspection items may include:
- Exterior general condition (lights, windshield and glazing, fenders, body parts, load-carrying bed, spare tire, and inspection and registration stickers)
- Undercarriage inspections (leaking fluids; suspended cables, wires, brake or gas tubing; exhaust system, etc.)
- Suspension (springs, shocks, tires, lug nuts)
- Under-the-hood inspection (worn belts, cracked hoses, radiator and oil leaks, fluid levels, burned or cracked wires, etc.)
- Cab conditions (housekeeping, steering, pedals, gauges, lights, turn signals, seatbelts, etc.)
- Emergency equipment (fire extinguisher, first-aid kit, blanket, flares, triangles, cell phone, radio, etc.)
Special attention should be paid to tow vehicles and trailers. A written checklist should be completed prior to operating any towed or tied-down deck load. Specific training and evaluation should be given to drivers who tow trailers or haul-rigged loads. They should also be designated in writing in your safety and health program.
Accident ReportingIt is a statistical probability that one out of six of your employees may have a minor or serious accident this year. Make sure that everyone understands their responsibilities and is prepared, should a vehicle accident occur on the job.
- Include insurance documents and registration verification in vehicle inspection.
- Maintain an accident kit in the vehicle to help the operator in an emergency, including: a regularly inspected first aid kit and fire extinguisher; blanket; burn kit; bio-hazard spill kit; portable eye-wash kit; emergency road flares, triangles and flags; mobile phone with 911 capabilities; spill kit for batteries, fuel, etc.; disposable camera for photo documentation; and a list of emergency contact numbers and names.
- Post a list of required accident scene actions on the visor for the driver’s reference (some employers put a short instruction list on a cassette tape as well).
- Conduct a mock accident scene drill to practice prompt and accurate response and reporting procedures. Even classroom training for all drivers can prove effective.
- Designate a Competent Person to review all accident reports on an annual basis to revise your Vehicle Safety Program. These accident analyses should be incorporated in an annual safety review meeting with all company personnel.
Are you sure that everyone driving for your company is fully trained and equipped to react to a minor or major accident with your vehicles? If you have any doubts, write them down and ask your drivers. Whether you perform your own vehicle service or outsource it, keep accurate records and review them regularly. These will keep you abreast of each of your vehicle’s condition and alert you to units that should be taken out of service before an accident with a mechanical cause can occur.
SummaryWith your employees traveling day and night on highway and secondary roads in all possible weather and traffic conditions, your liability increases and your control of conditions decreases. Utilizing the military model of hazard analysis, what is the probability of an accident vs. the severity of its effects? Anything you can do to reduce the probability of a driving accident (increased vehicle inspection, comprehensive driver training, random drug-testing program, etc.) or limit the severity of the effects (tie-down anchors, headache racks, bulkheads, heavier tires, etc.) will reflect on employee safety as well as your ultimate insurance costs. Relative to general liability and workers compensation, corporate vehicles insurance costs can be easily reduced by paying specific attention to your exposures.
As with all other aspects of your occupational safety and health program, the best way to achieve your goals is through employee interaction and input. Never underestimate the power of inclusion. Nothing is more valuable to an employer than an experienced, educated and motivated worker when it comes to reducing your insurance costs. Allowing them access to their own safety program will help reduce your claims and losses, increase your profit and notify your workers that their safety on the road always comes before productivity.