Employers the Driving Force Behind Cell Phone Behavioral Change

Before Toledo-based Owens Corning implemented a cell phone distracted driving policy, the company’s leader conducted a field test.

Deborah Trombley
Deborah Trombley

Chairman and CEO Mike Thaman wanted to know whether enacting such a policy would impact productivity.

“He (Thaman) actually went for 90 days adhering to what would become our policy for all employees – no cell phone use, handheld or hands-free (while driving),” said Owens Corning spokesman Matt Schroder. “That he could do that without it affecting his productivity became a key factor in the messaging to employees during the implementation.”

Schroder’s remarks are highlighted in a case study conducted by the National Safety Council. The study shows how Owens Corning’s safety culture values were advanced by adopting a best-practice cell phone policy. At the same time, no loss in productivity was observed at a manufacturing company with 15,000 employees spread across the globe.

At Owens Corning, teams of employees developed their own objectives to assist in compliance and to ensure workload goals were met. This group effort epitomizes how the best safety companies push toward a vision of zero job injuries regardless of whether employees are stocking shelves or logging countless hours behind the wheel.

Just as employers took the lead in promoting safety belt use among their employees before laws were passed, oil and gas companies started a cell phone ban movement more than 10 years ago. ExxonMobil passed its policy after an extensive review of cell phone distraction research, concluding in 2004 that driving while using cell phones didn’t mesh with its safety culture.

Soon, many more Fortune 500 companies followed suit, forbidding handheld and hands-free devices.

Still, most people today are unaware of the distractions associated with hands-free and voice control features. According to a NSC poll, 80% of Americans believe that hands-free devices are safer than handheld, and 53% believe that voice control features are safe because they’re provided in vehicles. How can people make an educated choice when they don’t know crucial safety information?

Research indicates drivers using handheld and hands-free phones only see about 50% of all the information in their driving environment. It’s called, “inattention blindness.”

Potentially unsafe mental distractions can persist long after dialing, changing music or sending a text using voice commands. In short, communication that doesn’t help you drive doesn’t need to be done while you are driving. Owens Corning used a Cell Phone Policy Kit offered by NSC as a basis to build its plan and reduce this distraction.

Distracted driving is one reason why vehicle crashes remain the #1 cause of workplace death. More than 3,000 people were killed on U.S. roadways in 2014 in crashes involving distracted drivers, according to Distraction.Gov. Another 431,000 were injured.

In 2013, the cost of crashes to U.S. employers was $47.44 billion, according to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety.  Of that total, $25.17 billion went for on-the-job crashes and $22.27 billion for off-the-job crashes.

Either way, employers pick up the tab. NETS reported crashes cost employers 1.628 million work days.

Employers can recoup those losses by addressing traffic safety concerns. Said another way: If you practice electrical safety on the job, why not practice safe driving behaviors, too?

All corporations are responsible for creating safe work environments for their employees. Few raise the bar higher than Owens Corning or the NAFA Fleet Management Association. NAFA extended an invitation to its members to sign a written pledge stating they will abide by the company’s zero-tolerance cell phone expectations at its Institute & Expo in April 2016.

Adopting – or strengthening – a cell phone policy is one way employers can address real or perceived pressure employees feel to be in constant communication with clients or colleagues while on the job.

Already, these policies have proven good for people and good for business. Employers without an enforced ban on cell phones are putting their companies at financial risk. Juries across America have reacted strongly in distracted driving cases, awarding plaintiffs very large damage amounts.

A jury in Arkansas found a lumber distributor liable when a salesperson rear-ended another car while talking on a cell phone. One individual was seriously injured. The verdict: $16.1 million.

“Go straight to the top, to the CEO, and get alignment in the organization,” is the advice Owens Corning shares on how to start the implementation process.

Employers are driving the cell phone abstinence philosophy by saying it’s time to bring safety and sanity back to our roads. This message is important to share because behaviors learned in the workplace often are mimicked at home.

Emails, text, voice messages and social media can wait until your vehicle is parked. None of them are worth putting your life – or the lives of others – in jeopardy.

Deborah Trombley is senior transportation program manager at the National Safety Council