While many states, including Pennsylvania, have implemented laws the ban texting while driving, the federal government has also thrown its hat into the ring. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has implemented a Distracted Driving Initiative, which will focus on texting while driving.

OSHA calls upon all employers to ban texting while driving and remove any practice or policy that requires or encourages workers to text while driving. The first part of OSHA’s call to action is certainly easy to implement. Simply add a section in your employee handbook prohibiting texting while driving (and maybe take it a step further by prohibiting cell phone use in general while driving) and ensure that all of your employees are aware of the policy.

The second part, removing practices or policies that require or encourage texting while driving, is a little more confusing and, possibly, more difficult to implement. If your policies and practices require texting while driving, create incentives that encourage it or if work is structured so that texting is a practical necessity for workers to carry out their job, you may be subject to an OSHA fine.

For example, if your employee is required to make a certain number of deliveries each day and must stay in contact with other employees or customers via text message or email, you could be fined by OSHA And in this case, the employee would not even need to have an accident for you to be fined, OSHA could find the violation due to an employee complaint or an inspection.

If OSHA does find a violation, it will issue a General Duty Claus citation, which carries a maximum penalty of $70,000 per Willful or Repeat violation or $7,000 per Serious Violation. Given the announcement of this Initiative, expect OSHA to respond aggressively to any accident where distracted driving may have been a factor or if an employee complaint is lodged.

Employers should implement policies that clearly prohibit texting or emailing while driving any company vehicle or while driving on the job. The policies must be communicated to all employees. Any practice that requires or encourages employees to text or email while driving, even if the encouragement is indirect, should be removed or rewritten so that it clearly forbids texting while driving. Erring on the side of caution now may save you thousands of dollars, and potentially employee lives, in the future.

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