With all the potentially dangerous chemicals that pest control professionals may handle on a day-to-day basis (there are more than 3,500 registered products for household insect mitigation alone), you might think that this is obviously the single greatest workplace safety risk for contractors.
Except that it isn’t.
The reality is, driver safety is the biggest risk exposure for employees of the 27,000 pest control businesses operating across the United States. Every day, tens of thousands of contractors take to the roads and highways to serve their residential and commercial customers. Aside from the everyday road hazards that these drivers routinely face, the greatest—and 100% preventable—threat to their safety is using handheld mobile devices while operating a vehicle.
Distracted Driving is a Growing Epidemic
The statistics on distracted driving are sobering:
- At any time in a given day, an estimated 418,000 drivers are actively using their mobile phones or devices while driving.
- Every day, 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes involving distracted drivers.
- According to the National Safety Council, mobile devices are a contributing factor in 1.6 million accidents per year. This represents 64% of the total number of road accidents in the U.S.
- The odds of an accident occurring for any reason skyrocket by 23 times when texting and driving.
A Growing Part of the Job
The complication is that using a mobile device is increasingly part of the job for contractors, whether it means communicating to clients, using the phone’s GPS to find a customer address, or texting information to colleagues.
This is especially true with younger employees; in a recent survey, 37% of respondents aged 18 to 34 said they felt a high degree of pressure to respond to work-related messages while driving, compared to 25% of the national average among all age groups.
The Costs (and other Ramifications) Can Be Staggering
In statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, on average, on-the-job vehicle accidents cost businesses more than $24,500 per crash, $128,000 per injury, and $3.8 million per fatality. Additionally, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 40% of all workplace fatalities in 2016 (the most recent year with available data) involved transportation incidents.
Pest control businesses can potentially be subject to increased liability and damages when a distracted driver is involved in a crash, while acting in the course and scope of employment—particularly when operating in a state with a “hands-free” law. These can range from catastrophic property and personal injury and loss of life, to legal settlements and fines, increased insurance premiums and Workers' Comp claims.
Add to this the negative publicity, reputational damage, disrupted operations and resulting lost customers, and what was just a momentary lapse in driver judgement, now becomes a major threat to the company’s operations—or potentially it’s very survival.
Businesses and Contractors Can be Held Liable
There have been a growing number of lawsuits relating to business and contractor responsibility regarding employee use of mobile devices. In one instance, an employee of a major paper company was using a company-issued mobile device when he rear-ended another driver, which resulted in serious injuries that eventually required the other driver’s arm to be amputated. The company paid $5.2 million to settle the case.
There are a few legal doctrines under which the court may find pest control companies liable for their employees' actions with regard to distracted driving.
These include vicarious liability (performing actions that fall within the scope of their job duties or responsibilities; e.g., an employee crashes into a stopped vehicle while using a mobile device to conduct work business); negligent hiring, supervision and retention (improper hiring, training and supervision resulting in an employee’s actions causing an accident) and negligent entrustment (the company allowed an employee to use a vehicle with the knowledge that it was likely he/she may engage in distracted driving).
What Can be Done to Protect Your Business?
A study by software provider Aegis Mobility found that more than 85% of employers have taken some steps to enforce distracted driving policies. But despite these efforts, only 32% of these companies responded that they are “very confident” that their current methods are effective. Given this challenging environment, what can leaders and fleet managers do to address this serious issue?
1. Written policies addressing mobile devices are essential—but are not a guarantee of legal protection. Policies should be based on state regulations, be clearly and consistently communicated, and ideally part of an overall risk management strategy. While a policy does not fully prevent the company from being held responsible, it does show some consideration and responsibility on behalf of the organization, which may lessen damages.
2. Policies that are too strict can be problematic. If your policy is unrealistic, or if all employees are breaking a strict or zero-tolerance policy and management is aware, this can create a serious issue. Plus, it can undermine adherence to other policies and procedures; that is, if employees know they can ignore one policy, they may come to believe that it is OK to ignore others as well.
3. Stress the importance of the policies as an important part of your culture. All employees need to be aware that these policies are there for a reason and are non-negotiable.
4. Policy enforcement is vital. If the company has a distracted driving policy but has never taken any steps to enforce it, this creates a substantial exposure risk when an incident occurs.
5. Provide driver training and continual monitoring. Provide defensive driving and other safety courses and refreshers. Also, ensure that all employees self-report all DUIs, major incidents, etc.
All Risks Pest Control insurance addresses contractor exposure to risk, including General Liability, Professional Liability, Crime, Property Damage and Personal Injury. We offer competitive pest control insurance rates through an A.M. Best “A+” XV carrier partner. Contact us today to learn more about our coverage solutions.