Taking work calls while driving is risky business for employers

It’s convenient to take business calls on the road, particularly for employees who travel a lot. Employees may think they can multitask, increase their availability, and get more done by taking calls en route to a customer or on the commute home.

That’s a natural attitude, but it’s a dangerous one — studies have found that drivers who use a cell phone have a similar impairment to drunk driving. And it can get your company into trouble.

A growing number of lawsuits are holding businesses accountable when their employees are involved in automobile crashes while using cell phones. Juries have awarded victims and their families upwards of $20 million in accidents linked to work-related cell phone use.

Employer liability 
If a person has an accident while on a business call, that person’s employer could be held liable. This is true whether or not the employee was using a work-issued phone. It’s also true if the employee is driving a personal car, to a personal function — if the call is tied to work, the employer could be targeted in a lawsuit.

That’s why many employers are implementing cell phone policies that either prohibit employees from using handheld cell phones while driving or ban them from taking any work-related calls at all.

To create or enhance a cell phone policy for your business, use these resources from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation. You’ll find a toolkit and sample distracted driving policies for employers, as well as similar resources for teens, parents, and educators.

Learn more about the dangers of distracted driving here.

Teach gun safety at home and away

Talk to your children about gun safety, even if you don’t own a gun. No matter how safe your family is with firearms, you can’t count on other households to be as careful.

Approximately half of all U.S. homes have guns. And, according to a study published in Pediatrics journal, nearly 1.7 million kids live in a home where firearms are kept loaded and unsecured.

Teach your kids to take these steps from the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe program if they see a gun:
1. Stop.
2. Don’t touch the gun.
3. Leave the area.
4. Tell an adult.

Unfortunately, research shows that most kids can’t resist touching a gun, even when they know they shouldn’t. Repeat the message often and impress the importance on your kids.

Talk to other parents too. Before you allow a playdate, ask the other child’s parents if they have guns and how the guns are stored.

Toy guns and video games 
The Parents magazine gun-safety pledge recommends parents talk to children about gun safety by the time they turn three, with clear directions to never touch a gun, even if they think it’s a toy. (Child development experts differ on what age children can reliably distinguish between real and toy guns.)

As kids get older, talk to them about pretend gun play and guns in video games. Have a dialog about how deadly real guns can be.

Safe storage
If you have guns, store them safely. That means unloaded and locked, and separate from the ammunition, which also should be stored in a lockbox. Your children should not be able to find the keys.

The Matthew Bellamy Project ships free gun locks to anyone who asks. Free gun locks also may be available from your local law enforcement agency, in partnership with Project ChildSafe.

Power up: Protect yourself when using power tools

The right power tools can make your home improvement projects faster and easier. But any power tool can be dangerous if not used correctly. Keep these safety tips in mind when you use power tools.

1. Keep things sharp
Cutting tools work best when properly sharpened. Using a dull tool increases the risk of injury because you need more pressure and leverage to make it work.

2. Care for the cord
Damaged power cords can cause shock or electrocution. Inspect the cord before use, and don’t use the tool if the cord is cracked or frayed. Protect cords from heat, oil, and sharp edges during storage.

 3. Unplug it 
Even if a tool is switched off, you still run the risk of an accidental start. Unplug tools when not in use and never change blades or bits when the tool is plugged in.

4. Don’t force it
Have patience. Power tools will perform better (and more safely) at the rate for which they are intended to work.

5. Avoid electric shock
Don’t expose power tools to rain or wet conditions; a wet tool increases the likelihood of shock. If you must work in damp conditions, plug your tool into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). A GFCI senses changes in the electrical current and instantly turns a tool off if you’re at risk for shock. Upgrade the outlets in your garage and shop with GFCIs, and use a plug-in GFCI when the work area isn’t permanently equipped with one.

6. Keep things neat
A messy work environment invites accidents. Give yourself plenty of light and room to work, and keep the floor clear of tripping hazards.

7. Wear ear and eye protection
Use personal safety equipment such as face shields, hearing protection, dust masks, and safety shoes, as appropriate. Power tools stir up dust and debris and you never know when a chip of something will come flying loose. Always use safety glasses to reduce the risk of foreign objects getting in your eyes.

8. Dress properly
Avoid loose clothes or jewelry that could catch in moving parts. Tie up long hair too.

9. Know what you’re doing 
If you don’t know how to use a piece of equipment, get training before you start. Read the manual to understand the specific safety guidelines for the type of tool you’re using.

Safety in reverse: 5 ways to avoid back-up accidents

One of the most dangerous things drivers do every day is backing up. Reportedly, one in four vehicle accidents occur when drivers are going in reverse. Most of these accidents involve vehicle damage, but bodily injury occurs as well. The National Highway Transportation Safety Agency calculates an average of 210 fatalities and 15,000 injuries are caused by back-up accidents every year.

Take these steps to prevent accidents when backing up:

• Know your blind spots. In pickup trucks and SUVs, blind spots can extend up to 50 feet behind a vehicle. Remember that mirrors don’t give you the full picture.
• Choose easy-exit parking spots. Find a pull-through parking spot when available or consider backing in to park.
• Walk around. Check behind your vehicle for children, pets, or other objects before you get in.
• Use a spotter. When backing into a difficult spot, use a spotter to help you navigate.
• Increase visibility. Trim bushes or trees near the driveway so you can see any pedestrians that might cross the sidewalk.

Back-up accidents and children 
The child advocacy group Kids and Cars says at least 50 children are backed over every week in the U.S., and some of those accidents are fatal. Drivers need to be attentive and look for kids before backing up.

If children are playing outside, have them stand where you can see them before driving in reverse. Teach kids to look for cars before crossing anyone’s driveway, and remind them never to play in, around, or behind a car. Keep toys out of the driveway so kids aren’t tempted to play there.

Rearview cameras 
By May 2018, back-up cameras will be required on all new cars and light trucks made in the U.S. If you’d like the technology now, add-on rearview camera systems are available at price points ranging from $50 to $300.