Like many companies, you might be thinking about banning your workers from talking on the cell phone when they drive. As a safety policy, this makes a lot of sense. After all, traffic accidents are the leading cause of workplace fatalities and among the leading causes of lost-time injury. Moreover, workers who talk on the cell phone while they drive are more likely to get into accidents than workers who don’t.
But persuading a company to ban workers’ use of cell phones can be tough. Last month, we showed you how to make the legal case for such a ban. But getting your company to accept such a ban is just half the battle. It’s just as important to make sure that you write the right kind of policy for your organization. Otherwise, workers—and managers—will simply ignore it.
Unfortunately, it seems that many companies in Canada don’t do a good job of writing a cell phone ban. The Insider looked at literally dozens of policies and found loopholes that you can almost literally drive a truck through. We’ll explain what the common loopholes are and show you how to plug them. There’s also a Model Policy below that combines the strongest features of what we considered to be the best cell phone policies. You can adapt our model to fit your own needs and circumstances.
The Importance of a Policy
There are two reasons you need to put your cell phone ban in writing:
To Clarify Expectations: Some safety rules are rooted in common sense and instinct. For example, an untrained worker probably doesn’t need to be told to keep away from dangerous machines having nothing to do with their jobs. But cell phone bans don’t necessarily dovetail with instinct. Cell phones enhance productivity by allowing for “multitasking.” So workers who use cell phones when they drive might think they’re doing nothing wrong. On the contrary, they might think they’re actually doing the company a favor. A direct and clear written policy is thus necessary to disabuse workers of this misconception.
To Minimize Liability: As we discussed in Part 1 of this series, if a worker speaking on a cell phone gets into a traffic accident, the victim might try to hold the company liable for negligence. Having a written cell phone policy can help the company defend itself against such a charge because it shows that you did in fact take steps to prevent the risk. It also makes it harder for the victim to show that the worker was an agent of the company. Why? Because a worker who violates a written company policy is less likely to be considered to have been acting “within the scope of his or her employment.”
Writing the Policy
Now let’s discuss how to create an effective policy banning the use of cell phones while driving. As a starting point, we’ll note that some companies ban workers from having cell phones and other wireless communication devices in their vehicles. Or they insist that the devices be turned off when the vehicle is being driven. This approach has the virtue of simplicity and straightforwardness. Get rid of the equipment and you remove the distractions.
But this is one of those cases where the cure is worse than the disease. “There are important safety reasons that workers should have cell phones and radios with them when they drive,” explains an Ontario safety coordinator. In addition, the OHS laws of at least seven provinces—AB, BC, MB, NT, NU, SK and QC—expressly require workers who work in isolation to carry communication devices. Banning cell phones and other devices in vehicles might run afoul of those “working alone” regulations. Moreover, a ban on having equipment in the vehicle is likely to be ignored, says the safety coordinator.
Impact: Your cell phone policy shouldn’t ban the equipment; it should impose restrictions on its use. Here’s how to do that.
Plug 6 Loopholes
Banning cell phone use while driving is trickier than it might sound. These are the six common traps that companies fall into and how to sidestep them:
1. Banning Just Cell Phones
The Loophole: Many of the policies we saw told workers that they may not use their “cell phones” while driving. But the problem isn’t confined just to cell phones. There are plenty of other devices that can cause problems. “CB radios are a major source of distractions and traffic accidents,” notes the Ontario safety coordinator.
How to Plug It: Make sure your policy covers not just the use of cell phones but all “wireless communication devices,” including mobile phones, text pagers and two-way radios (Policy, I (a).
2. Not Specifically Covering Personally Owned Vehicles & Equipment
The Loophole: Some policies apply only to cell phones and communication equipment furnished by the company and/or to company vehicles. That leaves workers free to talk on their personally owned equipment and in their own vehicles.
How to Plug It: Specify that the ban applies to all equipment and vehicles “whether owned by the company or the worker” (Policy, I (b)).
3. Not Covering Business & Personal Conversations
The Loophole: Some policies ban workers from carrying on “personal conversations” when driving on company business. By implication, it’s okay to hold a business conversation when driving.
How to Plug It: Ban the use of wireless devices to conduct any conversation, business or personal (Policy, I (b)).
4. Lack of Instructions on How to Handle Incoming Calls
The Loophole: Typical policies ban workers from making calls when driving but don’t tell them how to handle incoming calls.
How to Plug It: In addition to warning workers not to make calls, tell them what to do when a call comes in. Our Model Policy lets workers answer or return the call as long as they pull off the roadway in a safe spot and remain parked until the conversation ends (Policy, I (d)).
5. Covering Only the Drivers
The Loophole: Most cell phone policies address only the driver. But, as safety coordinator Kathy Steck points out, “it takes two people to create the danger: the person driving the vehicle and the person on the other end of the line that he’s talking to.” “Whether we’re a manager, a supervisor or a co-worker, when we take or make a cell phone call from or to an off-site worker who’s behind the wheel of a vehicle, we’re acting as enablers.”
How to Plug It: Make sure your policy bans others in your organization from calling workers when they’re driving. Also tell them what to do when receiving calls from workers behind the wheel (Policy, II (a)-(c)).
6. Not Providing for Enforcement
The Loophole: Cell phone policies often omit appropriate enforcement provisions. That’s a problem because simply writing a clear policy is a waste of time if you don’t enforce it. In fact, a policy not backed by discipline is worse than useless because it shows that you understood the danger but didn’t try hard enough to correct it.
How to Plug It: Make it clear that violation of the cell phone policy is a serious offence that could lead to discipline up to and including termination. And make sure you actually do follow through when and if violations occur (Policy, III).