June 2020 Safety Coach: Little Things? Little Moments? Turns Out, They’re Not So Little

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Safety Coach
Zen Safety Moment

Alex Epstein, director of transportation safety at the National Safety Council, grew up in New York City and took his driving test on the streets of Manhattan. He has lived all around the U.S., from New England to Seattle to Fairbanks, Alaska. His personal journey eventually took him to the congested streets and highways of Chicago and then Los Angeles, where he currently resides.

His driving habits and his safety leadership style have been shaped by these experiences, to be sure.  But a big part of his awareness was shaped by his wife, April, who taught him to meditate and introduced him to the practice of mindfulness.

So, what is mindfulness? What does it have to do with driving safety? How can you use it in the workplace to reach your employees? Alex will tell you mindfulness is focusing one’s awareness on the present moment and being fully aware and engaged in yourself and all that surrounds you. He breaks awareness into three pieces:

  • Body
  • Emotions
  • Mind

He talks about how all three can affect driver behavior and road safety in a recent webinar, Transportation Safety and Mindfulness. Here are some examples:

  • Awareness of thoughts: Is your mind elsewhere? Are you distracted? Are you stressed or impaired?
  • Awareness of feelings: Are you angry? Fearful? Anxious? Depressed?
  • Awareness of your body: Are you tired? Are you sick? Do you have a stiff neck, or are you nauseous?

Alex says basic driving skills are impacted by your state of mind. In fact, extremes, such as road rage incidents, often are the result of emotions going unchecked. He talks in his presentation about understanding your state of mind before you start driving and points to “The Breath” as the key to developing a calm demeanor.

“Breathing is a basic thing we rarely think about,” Epstein said. “Twenty thousand times a day, we breathe. But the idea of becoming aware of each breath during mindfulness practice gives you an opportunity to release other thoughts and focus your mind, release other activities and relax.”

He suggests slowing down your breath to allow inhales and exhales to be even.

Once relaxed, you are better suited to safe driving, Alex says, in part because you can use your senses to focus on road safety variables, such as travel route, traffic patterns, other road users and weather conditions.

To avoid distraction, Alex offers this advice: Enjoy your drive! Use the time to notice all that is unfolding around you. Don’t turn your car or truck into another office. When you’re driving, just drive. Focus on the drive. Driving is complicated enough. You do not need to be balancing other work activities, which are distracting and take you away from the task at hand, driving. If you have to do something for work, if you have to do something for your family – it’s all important – just don’t do it at the same time you’re driving.

More presentations at your fingertips: Jump to our YouTube playlist and explore a number of other options to boost your transportation safety efforts.

Sewer pipes with tension straps attached to the top of a vehicle.

Tailgate Talk
Tips to Secure Your Load

In a recent webinar, I worked with Accurate Safety Compliance founder Danny Thomas to talk about the dangers of loose loads and provide preventable measures.

Watch: Securing Your Load: Preventing Load Hazards and Liability.

We review best practices for employers to reduce risk, cut losses and prevent crashes that result in injuries and destruction of property. My belief: Employers need to make this topic a part of their driver and transportation safety training culture.

Thomas, who assists clients in building safety into their workplace culture, starts by telling the story of a near-miss event that shook him. On a recent trip, he stopped before a sheet of plywood flew off a truck and missed hitting his vehicle.

“I was lucky that day,” Thomas said.

Others have not fared as well. Robin Abel, a resident of the state of Washington, was one of the first to champion the Secure Your Load movement. Her daughter Maria nearly was killed in an incident involving flying road debris in 2004. Since then, Robin has worked for laws to send offenders to jail and legislation to assist victims.

In Texas, three to four crashes every day involve loads that are unsecure, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. In 2018, more than 175 of these crashes involved injuries. Employers absorb the brunt of costs associated with crashes through insurance premiums and other expenses, whether crashes occur on or off the job and involve employees or family members. They also face exposure to liability if one of their vehicles loses a load.

Thomas says 40% of all litter on America’s roads is because of unsecured loads. All drivers – commercial or otherwise – can do better. He says improved safety can result from answering some basic questions, including this one: “Would I feel safe driving behind my secured load?”

While the truck supply chain is open every day of the year, this is the time when many others are on the move, too. In fact, it is estimated 80% of residential moves occur between April and September.

Share these tips to secure your load:

  • Tie large objects directly to your vehicle or trailer (use straps, netting and ropes)
  • Cover your load with a sturdy tarp or netting
  • Do not overload your vehicle; you want to ensure your load is stable
  • Examine and maintain your equipment (replace worn straps and ropes)
  • Inspect your cargo before you depart and as soon as you arrive at your destination
  • Avoid hazards whenever possible (bumps, uneven and slippery roads, etc.)
  • Maintain a safe distance from other vehicles

Take a last look: Remember, in the few minutes in takes to conduct a walk-around, you could save yourself time and money. More importantly, you could save a life.