Q&A with NIOSH’s Dr. Stephanie Pratt

 Why is it important for businesses to have policies and programs to prevent motor vehicle crashes at work?

On-the-job crashes take a heavy toll on workers and their families, and are costly and damaging to businesses as well. The risk affects workers in all industries and occupations, whether they drive tractor-trailers, cars, pickup trucks or emergency vehicles. As an employer, you can prevent motor vehicle crashes by committing to driver safety programs at the highest levels of leadership, and you can fill gaps in federal safety regulations and state laws by establishing and enforcing driver safety policies.

For example, although federal regulations prohibit truckers from talking on handheld phones, 30 states still allow other drivers to do this. Many companies with strong motor vehicle safety programs have company-wide bans on handheld and hands-free phones in an effort to keep workers safe on the road. Because motor vehicle crashes are preventable, it makes sense to manage driving risks, like distracted driving, just as you would manage occupational safety and health risks at your place of business.

 

  What can employers do to keep business travelers working abroad from being involved in a motor vehicle crash?

Dr. Stephanie Pratt
Coordinator, NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety, National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, Division of Safety Research

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury death for Americans traveling abroad. While motor vehicle safety policies help to manage risk in the United States, these policies do not always translate to other parts of the world. For example, many U.S. employers may not make motorcycle safety a priority. However, in some parts of the world, motorcycles and three-wheeled vehicles are widely used for employee transportation, commuting and taxi service. In Asia, more than one-third of all road traffic deaths are on motorized two- and three-wheeled vehicles. If there is no alternative to traveling by motorcycle, business travelers—whether a driver or passenger—should at a minimum wear helmets that meet U.S. or international safety standards. Helmets purchased in low and middle income countries often do not meet these standards.

Another safety concern is public transportation. Public buses and taxis in certain parts of the world are not built, maintained and operated under the same safety standards used in the United States. Travel by public bus is especially risky at night, in inclement weather and on windy roads.

Safe transportation for business travelers and overseas workers presents significant challenges for employers. For your workforce, safe travel overseas depends on assessing each business location individually, setting policies for driving and use of public transportation by employees and ensuring those policies address local risks.

 What do you see as the most important emerging topics for research and policy related to motor vehicle safety at work?

Through our research, we seek to provide scientific evidence of the effectiveness of motor vehicle safety measures, which may be anything from administrative policies to in-vehicle technologies. We are also working to ensure that NIOSH research and outreach is meeting the needs of all who drive for work, from truckers to pharmaceutical salespersons.

We are working to expand research on fatigued and drowsy driving. To date, most research has focused on truck drivers, so our current and planned research includes exploring the impact on oil and gas workers, law enforcement officers and taxi drivers. Like truck drivers, these workers often work long or irregular shifts. Oil and gas workers, in particular, may have long commutes to remote work sites.

We’re also interested in the implications of self-driving vehicles for road safety in the workplace. As the technology develops, businesses will have to consider how it affects vehicle purchasing decisions, whether their drivers may need special training and how extended periods of self-driving might affect their policies on distracted driving and hours of driving.

 

 How can businesses work with NIOSH to help prevent motor vehicle crashes on the job?

NIOSH engages with businesses in a variety of ways. For example, our researchers partner with individual companies. It’s a win-win—NIOSH gains access to data and workplace sites, our research partners learn from our work, and other companies ultimately benefit from the results. Exchange of research results and ideas with our partners in the business community is essential to advancing the prevention of work-related motor vehicle crashes.

  

 What strategies does NIOSH use to move its motor vehicle research results into the workplace?

We understand the importance of translating research into concrete, actionable recommendations that help employers improve safety on the road. With that in mind, NIOSH develops different kinds of products to suit different audiences including user-friendly fact sheets, webpages, social media (follow us @NIOSH_MVSafety), blog posts and our Behind the Wheel at Work Behind the Wheel at Work e-newsletter.

We communicate directly with companies whose employees drive for work, as well as with organizations such as the National Safety Council, Network of Employers for Traffic Safety and American Society of Safety Engineers. NIOSH also regularly participates in business conferences and events to share our research and products. We view these relationships as a two-way street—it’s critical that we listen to employers so that our research and products meet their needs and the needs of their workforce.

We also work through other channels to contribute to policies. NIOSH supports safety rulemaking and initiatives of other federal agencies by contributing our research results. We also serve on committees that develop consensus standards. These play an important role because many aspects of motor vehicle operation in the workplace are not covered by safety regulations. Most recently, our research and expertise contributed to new standards for ambulances and to safety management standards that cover vehicles operated in all types of businesses.