Five tips to get workers onboard with safe cell phone use

Five tips to get workers onboard with safe cell phone use
Getting your workers to put away their cell phones when they drive isn't always easy. Here are five tips to help with implementing a safe cell phone use policy that will keep your workers in control while driving.

Canada's views on using cell phones while driving have come a long way since 2003, when Newfoundland and Labrador became the first province or territory in Canada to ban the use of cell phones behind the wheel.

Pending the upcoming enforcement of legislation passed last year in Alberta and New Brunswick, all ten of Canada's provinces—and at least one, but possibly all three of its territories— will have laws prohibiting the use of cell phones and handheld devices while driving by the end of 2011.

With mounting and undeniable evidence that using cell phones while driving causes accidents— and the widespread use of handheld devices for texting and e-mail— this sort of comprehensive roadway safety climate really couldn't have come soon enough. After all, when it comes to keeping drivers focused and engaged on the roads, the stakes are life and death.

The efforts of provincial authorities represent a governmental commitment to curbing distracted driving and keeping people safe while they drive. Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that distracted driving due to cell phone use extends beyond what provincial governments can responsibly regulate.

While all provinces permit hands-free communications through Bluetooth devices and car phones, research has found that there is little difference whether a driver is using a hands-free device or not— talking hands-free is still distracted driving, and it still puts people at risk.

The reality is that the human brain can only process so many tasks at one time, and, in order to focus on texting or talking or drafting an e-mail while in the driver's seat, drivers sacrifice some degree of awareness of their surroundings, as well as their ability to safely operate their vehicle.

There are a number of steps your company can take to ensure their workers are practicing safe driving and not putting others at risk by using their cell phones on the road.

Encouraging your employees to turn off their phones and abstain from handling business or personal calls while driving on company time is important for a number of reasons— from potential claims and liabilities in the event of an accident to making sure appointments and deadlines are kept— but there is no reason greater than ensuring the health and safety of your employees while they work.

With that in mind, the staff at COS has taken a cue from the U.S.'s National Safety Council (NSC)— and their recent awareness campaigns about the importance of instilling organizational safety policies on the use of cell phones while driving— to create a list of five helpful tips for getting employees to buy in to vehicular cell phone safety policies.

1. Communicate your intentions
It's important to clearly communicate your intention to implement a vehicular cell phone use policy to your employees, and to give them ample warning as to when they can expect to see changes. Before implementing a policy, hold open meetings with employees to discuss why the changes are necessary, and what will be expected of them once the new policy is implemented. Be sure to inform any union representatives before speaking with your employees, and try to get them on board with the policy. If employees feel the changes have been sprung on them or happened too suddenly, they are less likely to respect and abide by the policy.

2. Illustrate your point
Support your arguments for the implementation of a policy with statistics and compelling stories or testimonials. Emphasize the importance of protecting your employees' health and safety while they work, and spell out the adverse health and safety consequences that can result from non-compliance. If someone in the company has a personal story relevant to the subject, invite them to share it. Spell out the risk they pose to themselves and others and remind them what is at stake when they drive distracted. This will go a long way towards convincing them to buy into the necessity of the changes.

3. Show organizational support
Employees will no doubt be concerned by the perceived loss of productivity this policy could entail. This is a big obstacle in the way of securing their commitment to change the way they operate, which is why it's important to ensure and subsequently show them that upper management supports the policy. When you make clear that management's priority is employee and public safety, employees will understand the seriousness of the changes and follow the organization's lead. It will also challenge them to consider different ways of stimulating their productivity.

4. Seek feedback
Your employees are likely to have reservations about adapting to the changes proposed. Breaking old habits can exacerbate stress and make for difficult transitional periods while employees try to adapt. Be sure to discuss any potential barriers with your employees, and encourage a culture where employees can share any problems they might be having with the policy. Allowing your employees to voice their concerns is a great way to open up discussions about how to overcome obstacles, and often has the effect of relieving a lot of the stress that comes with the issues in the first place.

5. Communicate positive results
Once the policy has been implemented, communicate any positive results to employees. Undertaking analyses that survey and reinforce the negligible impact on productivity— and sharing these results with your employees— will only strengthen their adherence to the policy and willingness to abide by its dictates. An NSC membership survey in 2009 found that 99 per cent of respondents with cell phone policies found no decrease in productivity. With numbers like that, your employees will have a hard time objecting to what by then should be recognized as a common sense policy.

Using these tips to kick start your organization's cell phone policy will have everyone thankful at the end of the day. With a little effort and careful planning, this policy can create a safer travel environment for your workers and the public alike.