Winter is here! Are your drivers prepared for breakdowns?

Koch Peter 2 Posted by Peter Koch

The first major snow storm this year in the mid-Atlantic area rang in 57,000 calls from stranded AAA customers. In cold, wintry weather, even a minor car problem like a flat tire can be deadly serious, or at least miserable to deal with, unless you're prepared. Save your driving crew time and headache by getting vehicles winter-ready in the event of a breakdown.


All fleet vehicles should be equipped with a car-emergency kit year-round, but in winter, cold-weather gear should be added. 


A typical winter emergency kit:

  • Jumper cables
  • High visibility vest (class II or III)
  • Traction enhancers for shoes
  • Warning triangle
  • Cat litter or sand
  • Shovel
  • Ice scraper
  • Warm clothes like gloves and a hat
  • Blankets
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • First aid kit—also pack prescribed medications
  • Cell phone with a list of emergency numbers

More resources on winterizing vehicles:

Lifting: You Can Measure the Risk

Bill OConnor  Posted by Bill O’Connor

If you have manual handling tasks at your place of work, don’t keep your workers safe by accident.  All manual handling tasks should be evaluated for risk of injury by considering the force of exertion, frequency, body mechanics, type of load and hand grip, as well as the duration that workers are lifting. 


The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has devised a simple tool for making just that assessment.  By taking a few simple measurements of a lifting task, you can identify if the task is within recommended limits or not.


A lift analysis tool (in an Excel spreadsheet) can be downloaded from a website posted by Dr. Tom Bernard of the University of South Florida.  To use the tool, you follow these simple steps:


  • Identify the horizontal distance of an object from the body at the origin and destination of the lift (Distance of hands from the ankle bones)
  • Identify the distance of the hands from the floor at the origin and destination of the lift
  • Identify the weight of the object lifted
  • Identify the asymmetry of the torso (how much the shoulders are turned from the straight ahead position)
  • Identify how many times the object is lifted per minute
  • Identify how good the hand grip is
  • Identify how much time per day is occupied with this task


To complete your analysis, enter your assessment results into the spreadsheet.  The macros in the tool will identify the recommended weight limit (RWL) and lifting index (LI – how much the task is above or below the RWL).  “What if?” scenarios can be evaluated for possible modifications to the task, in order to identify the best method of keeping the task at the RWL.



Distracted Driving

Klatt Randy  Postedby Randy Klatt

Lately, it seems every time you read, watch, or listen to a news outlet, texting and cell phone usage while driving are the major topic of discussion.  States are quickly trying to nip this issue in the bud. New York, for example, will enact a statute outlawing texting while driving beginning November 1.

Maine is taking a different route, which could gain some national momentum, by enacting a distracted driver law.  This legislation, Senate Bill 15, was signed by Maine’s Governor Baldacci in June 2009 and will take effect on September 12, 2009, and is entitled, “An Act to Establish a Distracted Driver Law.”

According to the new Maine law, a driver fails to maintain control of a vehicle if he/she is engaging in activities that are not necessary to the operation of the vehicle, or activities that impair the ability of the person to safely operate the vehicle.

The new law defines "failure to maintain control of a motor vehicle" as committing a traffic violation or being involved in a reportable accident while engaged in the operation of a motor vehicle while distracted.

Although the law does not specify cell phone use, it is clearly intended to prevent distractions caused by these devices as well as other sources such as eating or drinking, applying makeup, reading a newspaper, texting, etc.

The bottom line is that when a person is behind the wheel of a vehicle, he or she must focus on the duties at hand.  Driving takes a level of concentration and there is little room for complacency.  Employers must take this role seriously as transportation is the most common cause of death in the workplace.  If you operate a fleet of vehicles, have employees on the road for sales calls or deliveries, or even if you ask your employees to drive their personal vehicles for business, developing a fleet plan that will discourage distracting activities while driving is essential.  After all, it’s now the law!

Click here to learn more information about Maine’s new law, as well as other driving laws around the country. The National Safety Council also has extensive information regarding distracted driving.


Back to School Construction—Commuters Beware

Koch Peter 2  Written by Peter Koch

The impending close to summer reared it’s ugly head earlier this week while dropping my daughter off at 6:30 AM for the first of her pre-season double session practices.  That also dredged up images of the hundreds of school buses and thousands of parents transporting kids, not to mention the scores of recently licensed drivers that will soon be competing for our attention during the morning commute. 

Combine these with the much needed repair work currently happening on our roads and a lack of planning on our part, and you have a recipe for, at best, a tardy arrival to work or speeding ticket.  You can imagine the worst case . . .

While no injury or fatality is considered good, the frequency of school bus related traffic fatalities is relatively low.  National Highway Statistics provides this brief summary of the stats relating to school bus crashes:

  • Each year, approximately 800 school-age children are killed in motor vehicle crashes during the normal school travel hours (weekday mornings and afternoons during school months). 
  • Roughly 2% of the 800 children killed are school bus related while 74% occur in private passenger vehicles and 22% are the result of pedestrian or bicycle accidents.  

What can we do to keep the grim reaper or trooper from the rear view mirror?  Start with a good plan:

  1. Know your route – Be aware of any planned or current construction along your way.  Using web resources such as Trafficinfo, Rand McNally, or a local city website can help identify areas where delays are likely.
  2. Leave early – Be sure to leave enough time to account for any known construction delays or school bus stops along the way.  Usually 30 minutes is enough, but more may be necessary depending on where you live.  If you get there ahead of time you can catch up on your email and text messages.
  3. Stay visible – Stop far enough back for the bus driver to see you in their mirror and use your hazards when stopped for a bus, giving notice to any drivers behind you.
  4.  Avoid distraction – It’s not the phone, it’s the conversation.  Refrain from using cell phones while driving in school zones or areas with children. The same goes for activities that distract the driver, such as changing CDs, looking at notes and reading maps.

The following sites provide additional tips and strategies for avoiding tragedy on you morning commute this fall:

What Drives You?

DSC05372   Posted by Randy Klatt

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, transportation accidents were the most common manner in which workplace fatalities occurred in 2007 (31%).  For those employers who operate a fleet of vehicles, or even simply ask employees to conduct company business in their own vehicles, this statistic presents a significant risk. 

What can you do to help protect your employees, or yourself, when operating a motor vehicle?  You can start by ensuring you have a Fleet Policy and Procedures Program in place, which includes the following:

  • Vehicles are regularly inspected to ensure proper mechanical condition and regularly scheduled maintenance occurs.
  • All drivers are required to maintain good driving records and that those records are checked at least annually.  This also requires criteria be set to establish what is an acceptable record and what is not. 
  • A cell phone usage policy that prohibits making calls while driving.  It is also recommended that incoming calls be allowed to go to voice mail, or answered only with a hands-free device and that the driver should pull over in a safe location whenever possible.  The use of other electronic devices such as e-mail or texting is prohibited. 
  • Any moving violations or collisions must be reported, investigated, and any corrective or disciplinary actions taken in a timely manner.
  • 100% seatbelt use—no exceptions.

These are the basics—your plan may be more specific. 

If you do not have a Fleet Policy, there are resources available to help you create one. MEMIC’s Safety Director has sample policies listed. The National Transportation Safety Board, National Safety Council, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are filled with laws, policies, and statistics to help guide you in creating your policy.

The bottom line is driving is a hazardous activity. Employers must take responsibility and recognize the hazard, doing all they can to ensure only the safest drivers are behind the wheel.  Let’s all be sure that safety is what is driving us! 

There's Nothing Nice About Black Ice

Of all the driving hazards associated with winter, there is one condition that even professional truck drivers’ fear- black ice.  Black ice shows up on pavement when it is least expected.  Dry pavement becomes a shiny, slippery surface in a matter of a few feet, making other vehicles, ditches, guard rails and even buildings an unavoidable target.  Many who walk away from such an accident will say, "It happened just like that."

Has this ever happened to you?  I can personally attest to an increased heart rate due to black ice as I was traveling down the road.  I have also witnessed several accidents that involved personal injury to other drivers due to black ice.  Strange as it may be, for some reason going off the road due to deep snow does not instill the degree of fear that black ice and icy roadways does.  Maybe it is because snow is obvious, but that thin layer of frozen water is not as obvious, and can affect you in a split second.

The way to keep yourself and others safe during this most hazardous of conditions goes right back to driving basics: 
• Maintain an appropriate speed
• Keep a proper distance between you and the car in front of you
• Simple braking and steering techniques
These are just some of the things you can do to keep your airbag where it belongs – inside the dashboard!  Click here for more tips to driving safe on the icy roads.

In addition, there is one more valuable resource when it comes to driving on icy roadways -- the news.  Most of the population has to commute for work or school and the local news, whether it is television or radio, may give you some information you did not know the night before.  While we all feel the weatherman is never right, he or she may be just the person to pass on some valuable roadway information.  Happy motoring!

Texting and Wrecking

It's well-known among workplace safety geeks that one of the most frequent hazards employees encounter on a daily basis involves driving a vehicle. This includes not only risk for those who drive for a living, as well as those with incidental driving in the course of work, but everyone who drives to and from work.

Standard rules of the road emphasize giving your full attention to driving and also watching out for the other guy. With the advent of cell phones came a unique distraction drivers grapple with—talking on cell phones. Now, compound the physical acrobatics of texting while negotiating the highways and byways and the degree of risk increases substantially.

Most everybody's heard of somebody or were themselves actually involved in an accident where the statement "it happened quick" describes the event. Keep that in mind when thinking about hand-held devices and decreased reaction time.

If you haven’t already added a “no texting while driving” clause to your driving policy at work, it’s a no-brainer to do so. If you need motivation to make it a priority, read “Texting can be Lethal,” a blog entry from Lynch Ryan that makes a convincing call to action.


Return of the School Bus

There are many signs that indicate summer’s end no matter where you reside. The sun sets a little bit earlier. Temperatures drop noticeably at night. And the big yellow school buses reappear. 

Although all three of these signs affect the traveling public, the only one we can have positive or negative influence over are school buses.

Did you know on a yearly average, 33 children—typically five to seven years old—are killed in school bus-related traffic accidents in the U.S? Most of these children are killed as pedestrians in the 10-foot danger zone that encompasses all four sides of a bus. This happens because they’re in a hurry, are easily distracted and believe that the nice driver will always stop for them.

That’s why each state has its own school bus driving laws for motorists. For example, a common rule requires drivers in either direction to stop when the bus is flashing red lights. If you are an employer who has drivers on staff, make sure they know the law. Besides avoiding tragedy, you’ll also dodge a very bad PR bullet that could come if one of your drivers accidentally hits a child. 

As a parent, there are several clichés you can use to teach your children about bus safety:

  • The five giant steps rule. When crossing the street after getting off the bus, stand in front of the bus and take five giant steps forward. Wait until the driver sees you and signals for you to go. 
  • Beware of the bus stop. The bus stop is the most dangerous stage of the bus trip. Most kids are killed getting on or off the bus. 
  • Left-right-left. Before crossing, look left, then right, then left again for oncoming traffic before crossing.

Here's a good website that can serve as a refresher as we begin to share the roads with the big yellow units:

School Bus Stops: A Risky Part of the Ride

It’s Raining Accidents on the Roadways

Weather affects just about everything in every part of the country and lately rain has had a starring role in the Northeast. Record amounts of rainfall have not only put a damper (no pun intended) on vacations, but also on agriculture, construction and all other outdoor industry. It also affects the roadways, putting travelers at risk and driving safely in the rain is my topic today.

In fact, probably the greatest hazard most working folks encounter on a daily basis is traveling to and from work. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that highway accidents are responsible for the most work-related deaths each year. For some, the risk may be minimal because it's a short distance. For others, it's all day behind the windshield because it’s their job. A figurative formula might be the greater the time behind the wheel, the greater the chance of accident. And the higher the speed, the more severe the accident.

It's a safe bet that everybody reading this has taken some type of driver’s education. But how many remember when it is most hazardous to drive on wet roadways? If you said "the first few hours because of oils released from the road surface,” then you were paying attention and have a good memory. But do you recall other proven techniques that increase your chances of avoiding an accident? If not, below is a very good website that covers everything from headlights to hydroplaning:

Tips for Driving Safely in the Rain

I suggest you visit it yourself and possibly use as a safety meeting topic for your employees.

Even though it may be warm and sunny where you are today, eventually it's going to rain. So as safety trainers like to say, "Don't focus on safety by looking in the rearview mirror (reactive), focus on safety by looking through the windshield (proactive)."

"Fire" Truck Incident

There was a recent incident at a school project in Maine worth reviewing. It involved a dump truck that backed into a propane tank fill pipe. Once the pipe was broken, the propane discharged and ignited. The truck driver was burned as he escaped the cab and luckily will recover, but was fortunate to have walked away at all.

During the incident investigation, one item stood out as the root cause: communications. Simply put, the driver and the spotter directing the truck had a signaling breakdown. The cardinal sin of directing construction vehicles was broken—the driver lost sight of the signal man and before you knew it, all hell broke loose.

It's probably impossible to calculate how many vehicles are backing up on job sites each day across the nation. But the National Safety Council reports that one out of every four accidents can be blamed on poor backing techniques. The reason that most backings are uneventful is directly related to qualified drivers and qualified signalers doing their jobs.

When do you need a signal person?  Basic hazard evaluation will determine that. Are you in a field with nobody around or on a job site with a hundred people scurrying about?  Factor in other risks such as other equipment moving about, blind spots and potential property damage, and the need for someone dedicated to the safe movement of a vehicle is very clear.

Should you need to train employees involved with backing operations, there are many websites and documents available. One website I recommend often is It has a brief but concise lesson plan titled Heavy Equipment Backing that covers the basics. 

As always, once the basics are established, project management must add the finer details to monitor overall compliance.