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By Peter Young

Like many pest management professionals (PMPs), Paul takes his company-provided van home at the end of every day. Usually, he follows the rules: he doesn’t use the van for personal errands, and he logs his mileage dutifully. But when his oldest daughter is headed to her first year of college, Paul’s ethical resolve fades. My manager has kids; he will understand, he thinks. And anyway, it’s the weekend.

After dropping off his daughter and her belongings, Paul heads home, but he’s worried. Is his daughter’s dorm safe enough? Will she be happy at school? He’s so preoccupied, in fact, that he tries to pass into the left lane without looking — and clips a small SUV, sending it spinning into the median. Paul also loses control and skids into the shoulder, hitting a barrier.

What went wrong; how could Paul have prevented this accident? Despite biting insects, high temperatures and chemicals PMPs may encounter daily, vehicles can be the most threatening equipment they handle. But with a little knowledge and thoughtful risk management practices, they can help make the roads a little safer.

CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES. Although we typically associate distracted driving with cell phones, distractions take many forms. Think of distracted driving as any activity that removes a driver’s attention from his or her primary task: driving. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other experts classify driving distractions into three categories: manual, which remove the driver’s hands from the wheel; cognitive, which take the driver’s mind off the task; and visual, which take the driver’s eyes off the road.

Texting is an insidious driving distraction because it combines all three types. Many of us text almost reflexively now, so it does not always seem like a complex task. But to text and drive, we must turn our attention to the phone, remove a hand from the wheel and, at least, glance at the keyboard. GPS devices and other electronics can create similar distractions.

Paul’s story demonstrates a cognitive distraction — he was too upset to drive safely. Yet it also demonstrates how poor decisions can exacerbate the effects of deadly distractions. Had he loaded up the family sedan to drive his daughter to school, he still would have been upset, and still may have gotten into an accident, but he may not have risked his job and his company’s reputation.

The ramifications of a bad accident can reverberate through a business in more ways than you might imagine. Insurance may pay large sums to cover legal fees, bodily injury claims and repair costs, but large claims often result in large deductibles. Plus, their presence on a company’s loss history can make it difficult to secure favorable insurance rates or even obtain new coverage. Accidents also can cause productivity losses as matters are settled. Company leaders spend time dealing with litigation, and techs are hampered by an out-of-commission vehicle or equipment.

Also, according to the legal concept of negligent entrustment, employers can be held vicariously responsible for an employee’s accident. If an employer fails to perform a necessary background check or monitor an employee’s motor vehicle record, he may be liable for the results of the employee’s dangerous driving behavior.

Finally, devastating accidents can cause serious harm to a company and employee’s reputations, and PMPs depend on those reputations. With an accident on the evening news — particularly one caused by employee negligence — even repeat customers may question if they want to work with an irresponsible company.

It comes down to trust. Home and business owners want to work with PMPs they can trust. So, what can you do to ensure you are worthy of their trust?

PREVENTION IS KEY. You cannot eliminate all accidents, but you can take three steps to reduce their frequency and severity: improve hiring practices, provide ongoing support and document your progress.

1. Hire safe drivers. Safe drivers drive safely. That may seem like an obvious statement, but not every pest management company reviews the driving histories of new employees. There are other qualifications to consider, like licensing and experience with treatment protocols. Yet driving is a central aspect of a PMP’s job. During the hiring process, review candidates’ state motor vehicle records (MVRs). Because drivers may have MVRs in multiple states, national databases can come in handy. Look for red flags such as driving under the influence or a high number of points on the license. But all unsafe drivers don’t necessarily get pulled over. This is where the road test comes in. Potential new hires should undergo a road test or ride-along with a qualified manager. Red flags include speeding, not using a seat belt and failing to stop completely at signals.

2. Support safe driving. Reviews and road tests aren’t just for new hires; you should assess current employees at least every six months. Positive behavior can be reinforced or negative behaviors corrected with defensive driving courses.

These reviews help enforce an organization’s policies and procedures. A safe driving policy is the foundation of all of these measures, from hiring to ongoing driver monitoring. A clear, enforceable policy document details prohibited acts and distractions, like texting, eating or smoking. These guidelines are made even more useful by the inclusion of desirable behaviors, such as stopping at a rest stop to make a call. These documents also can include the consequences and disciplinary procedures for failing to comply with company policy.

Texting is insidious as it combines manual, cognitive and visual distractions.
©nd3000 | iStock

Every company’s policy will be different depending on internal culture, business practices and state laws. Some companies that allow employees to take home company vehicles at the end of the day require employees to assume responsibility for the insurance deductible should they be involved in an accident while off-duty.

Telematics devices and GPS tracking are also increasingly used to reinforce policies. The industry has been adopting these tools to report data on a vehicle’s location and condition and the driver’s behavior, allowing managers to address problems in a timely fashion. They are important tools in the modern battle for safer roads.

3. Document your progress. A decidedly old-fashioned tool useful in enforcing and maintaining safe driving among employees is documentation. The safe driving policy should be written and reviewed by appropriate personnel and provided to employees. Companies also can log maintenance schedules and records that show a vehicle is kept in good working order.

If employees take defensive driving courses, retain proof (e.g., a copy of the certification or acknowledgment they receive). Also document their biannual road tests and manager evaluations. In the event of a serious accident that results in a lawsuit, all of these documents may help demonstrate a company was not negligent.

Companies also can stock PMPs’ vehicles with accident reporting forms to make post-accident documentation easier. Key details are best captured while the memories are fresh. These forms can ask the questions a claims adjuster might have: What were the weather conditions? In what direction was the vehicle traveling? How many passengers were riding in the vehicles involved? This document provides not only essential claims handling information, but guidance for a PMP shaken by an accident.

FINAL THOUGHTS. If I can offer one quick takeaway, it is this: we cannot prepare for every accident — but we should try. Car accidents are a reality of modern life, and how you prepare for their inevitability is nearly as important as how you prevent them. Safety practices and risk management, including having the right insurance, ensure businesses can be prepared for potential tragedy.

If you would like to continue your education on safe driving in the workplace, read “Driving on the Edge,” Brownyard Group’s Distracted Driving Brief. You can learn more about the trends affecting the commercial auto insurance market and how to create a workplace full of safe drivers. Download it here: http://brownyard.com/distracted-driving.

Peter Young is account manager and underwriter at the Brownyard Group, the leading insurance program administrator behind PCOpro, specialized insurance coverage for pest control operators. Learn more at www.brownyard.com.