Workplace Distractions Hurt Your Employees and Your Business

Workplace distractions are ever-present. They reduce workers’ productivity, increase their stress, cause injuries and lower morale. Some are the result of modern technology, but others have been around a lot longer.

Following an interruption, it typically takes a couple of minutes to return concentration to work. These short interruptions and recovery periods add up to large amounts of lost productive time.

There are a multitude of distractions that can affect employee safety and productivity that employers need to be aware of.

 

  1. Smartphones– Smartphones and tablet computers are a major distraction, especially in office environments. Text messages, alerts and the urge to check Facebook and news – not to mention game apps like Candy Crush and Words With Friends – can pull employees’ attention away from the task at hand.
  2. E-mail– Misuse of e-mail can be another productivity sapper. This includes strings of e-mails sent to arrange a time for a meeting or conference call, when scheduling software could accomplish the same thing with one or two messages. It also includes clicking the “reply all” button, sending a thank-you intended for one person to a group of ten. Again, these small interruptions compound over time.
  3. Old-fashioned interruptions – A co-worker who stops by to ask a quick question and sticks around to chat for a few minutes. Meetings that are held because they’ve always been held, regardless of whether they accomplish anything. The colleague who sits three cubicles away and is incapable of having a quiet conversation.
  4. Personal issues– In some cases, a worker’s distractions may come from himself. His job may be boring, causing his mind to wander while he uses a tool or pours a hot drink. He may have problems at home – financial difficulties, family members who are ill, elderly parents, a child going through a rough time.
  5. Work pressures– This includes perceived pressure to finish a job quickly. Manufacturing or warehouse employees may feel pushed to fill an order in a hurry, or construction workers may face short deadlines.
  6. Complacency– Sometimes, employees have done a job for too long and have grown complacent in their knowledge. This can lead to their missing crucial steps in the process, resulting in faulty work – and worse.

 

The fallout

Distractions are not only annoying; they can also be dangerous.

Tripping hazards, machines that use saws, punches, drills or lasers, and workplace chemicals can all cause serious injuries if workers are not paying attention.

An employee driving a forklift in a warehouse can collide with furniture or goods. Kitchen workers plus knives and stoves, plus distractions, can easily produce injuries that are costly and upsetting for the rest of the staff.

To an extent, distractions are unavoidable, but they can be reduced. One thing employers can do is to encourage frequent breaks. There is a limit to how long someone can focus intently on a task. Occasional stretch or walk breaks can help workers clear their minds, relax a little, and take care of personal phone calls and messages.

If necessary, managers can block employees from accessing certain websites or limit use of smartphones to break times. They can also model and encourage proper use of e-mail.

Meetings can be scheduled only when a group discussion is necessary to accomplish work results. To keep them on track, they should be time-limited and have stated agendas.

If it doesn’t interfere with customer service, employees can wear earbuds or headphones to muffle loud conversations. Employees subject to frequent interruptions from gossipy co-workers should be permitted to hang up “do not disturb” signs when necessary.

It is possible to reduce distractions without burdening the workplace with excessive rules. Employers who do so will raise morale, prevent injuries, improve quality and boost profits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Ways to Reduce Accidents among Your Driving Employees

We’ve often discussed the scourge of distracted driving in America, brought on in large part due to the use of smartphones and leading to a significant spike in vehicle accidents, injuries and deaths. That in turn has led to a jump in both commercial and personal auto insurance pricing.

The risk for businesses is even greater as a careless driving employee can result in a substantial liability claim, particularly if a third party is injured. If one of your drivers is found to have been engaged in distracted driving, any judgment or settlement for a personal injury could easily cost more than $1 million.

While you can hold meetings about the dangers of distracted driving and what your driving employees can do to reduce the chances of crashing, in the end it comes down to trusting that they will do the right thing.

So what can you do? We suggest a holistic approach to the issue.

1.   Understand distracted driving

Just how bad is the distracted driving problem? In 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. During daylight hours, an estimated 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. That creates enormous potential for deaths and injuries on U.S. roads.

But smartphones are not the only source of distraction. Road safety experts say there are three types of distraction for drivers:

  • Manual – This can include looking around for a lost object in the car, reaching under the seat or behind to the back seat.
  • Cognitive – This can include a driver who is lost in thought and not paying full attention to driving.
  • Visual – Anything that makes a driver takes their eyes off the road, like looking at the GPS or searching for a song on an iPod.

 

Some distractions actually are a combination of two or all the above, like texting or posting stuff on Facebook.

All of your training for your driving employees must emphasize the need to address all types of distracted driving, and should include scenarios to help them make proper decisions when behind the wheel.

2.  Hire good drivers

When hiring personnel who drive, consider what their primary responsibility is. For example, if you own a plumbing operation, your drivers are not necessarily going to be professional drivers, since their primary duty is fixing plumbing issues.

But if you are hiring any workers who will be driving as part of their job, even if it’s not their primary responsibility, you should still make sure they are good drivers by checking their driving records.

Hiring safe drivers is one of the best ways for you to ensure you are putting safe drivers behind the wheel. After all, past driving behavior is the best indication of future performance.

If you think any prospect will be driving as part of their job, you should pull their DMV records. Look for anything serious like DUIs or frequent citations for moving violations. You should decide what your level of tolerance is for driving histories.

In addition, check their resumes to see whether they were driving as part of any of their prior jobs, and if they have experience driving the same type of vehicle they would be driving for you.

Also ask about any medications the applicant may be taking, as some can affect their driving.

Finally, consider requiring candidates that would be driving to take a road test as part of the recruitment process.

3.  Coach current employees to be safe drivers

You should hold regular training for all of your current employees that may drive as part of their job, even if they are only running to the office supply store or on an occasional errand.

You should attack this in a three-pronged approach:

  • Pull their DMV driving records annually.
  • Subject them to road tests where they are graded on their safe driving.
  • Hold an annual meeting to go over safe driving policies; reinforce the dangers of distracted driving and stress the need to always focus on the task at hand.

 

You should also have safe driving policies in writing that are enforceable. Your policies should list all the behaviors your workers are prohibited from engaging in while driving.

Some rules you can include:

  • Never answer the phone while driving, even if you have a hands-free device.
  • Bar programming a GPS while on the move and require that they pull over when safe to do so.
  • Never hold your smartphone in your hand while driving.

 

Your policy should also specify the consequences and any disciplinary action for breaking the rules.

You should maintain records of these policies. This is of utmost importance if one of your employees is in an accident and accused of negligence. Your policy and proof of training can protect your organization.

4.  Take advantage of technology

Many companies are installing GPS tracking devices in their vehicles so they can receive real-time information about a vehicle’s location and rate of speed. This gives you valuable insight into any dangerous habits your drivers may be engaging in.

You can also install technologies that will block cell phone signals while the vehicle is moving.

5.  Have procedures for dealing with accidents

Despite your best efforts, your driving employees may still have accidents. They should be trained in the procedures they should follow after an accident.

Some companies include accident kits in their vehicles. They are typically a small bag or box that’s kept in the glove compartment.

The kit should explain what they should do, including:

  • Taking photos from all angles after an accident.
  • Completing a form on which to record details of the accident, including where it took place, how it occurred, the damage to third parties, the other driver’s insurance information, road conditions, and more. Require your drivers to take down all the details at the scene of the accident.
  • Calling the police in the event of an accident.

Employees should not discuss who was at fault with the police, but they can work with them to document the accident. Plus, a police officer can provide a calm, outside perspective on a stressful situation.

 

 

OSHA Continues Its Focus on Multi-Employer Worksites

OSHA is continuing its focus on multi-employer worksites, and contractors that oversee the work of other employers’ and subcontractors’ workers need to be aware of the long reach the workplace safety agency has.

Having employees who work for multiple employers on the same project or in the same facility is becoming more common. This is true especially in the construction and manufacturing industries, but also anywhere a workspace is owned by one company but filled with multiple contractors, consultants and temporary workers employed in a variety of operations.

Under its “Multi-Employer Citation Policy,” OSHA uses a two-step process to determine which employers it will cite in a workplace.

First, it defines the type of employer each employer on a worksite is:

  • Creating – Creating employers are those whose workers create a hazardous condition that violates an OSHA standard. Employers that create violative conditions are citable even if the only employees exposed are those of other employers at the site.
  • Exposing – Exposing employers are those whose workers are exposed to a hazard on a multiemployer worksite. Only exposing employers can be cited for a general duty clause violation. If the exposing employer created the violation, it is citable as a creating employer.
  • Correcting – A correcting employer is defined as being engaged in a common undertaking on the same worksite as the exposing employer, and responsible for correcting the hazard. The correcting employer can be cited if it doesn’t exercise reasonable care in preventing and discovering violations and does not meet its obligations to correct hazards even if none of its workers were exposed to the hazard.
  • Controlling – Controlling employers are the employers with general supervisory authority over the worksite, including the power to correct safety and health violations or require others to correct them. Control can be established by contract or, in the absence of explicit contractual provisions, by the exercise of control in practice.

 

A single employer may fall into more than one category.

Once the employer is defined, the agency tries to determine if the employer’s actions were sufficient to meet its obligations. If OSHA determines that the employer did not meet its obligations, the employer will be cited.

 

Controlling employers have highest burden

Worksite owners and operators are typically the controlling employers under OSHA policy and carry a higher compliance burden than other employers at the site.

OSHA holds controlling employers responsible for exercising “reasonable care” to prevent and detect violations on the worksite. Reasonable care generally requires:

  • Periodic inspections of the worksite
  • Implementation of an effective system for correcting hazards
  • Effective enforcement of a site-wide safety and health compliance program.

 

Controlling employers are not required to inspect for hazards as frequently or to have the same level of knowledge of the applicable standards as the employers they have hired.

 

The final test

If an OSHA inspector finds workers painting the ceiling under exposed, hot wires, which employer would be cited?

In a case like this, three employers could be on the hook:

  • The general contractor – As the controlling employer, the general contractor can be cited for allowing all workers present to be exposed to the hazard.
  • The electrical contractor – The electrical contractor is the creating employer and can be cited for not covering the exposed wiring. The electrical contractor’s employees do not need to be present at the time when OSHA finds the painters working around the exposed wires. The electrical contractor can also be the correcting employer.
  • The painting contractor — The painting company is the exposing employer and can be cited for allowing its employees to work in a hazardous environment.

 

As you can see, it’s not hard for a contractor to be swept up in a multi-employer citation. Knowing where you stand as one of four types of employers, will help you understand your responsibilities to ensure a safe workspace.

Even if you don’t put your own employees at risk, you may be putting the workers of another firm in danger, and in OSHA’s eyes, you are equally liable for any accidents that might occur.

 

 

 

 

MeToo Movement to Spawn Wave of Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

After revelations of sexual misconduct by a number of high-power executives, media personalities and politicians last year spawned the #MeToo movement, defense lawyers are predicting a record number of sexual harassment lawsuits will be filed against employers in the coming year.

The #MeToo movement has emboldened women who have been sexually harassed, abused or worse by a work superior or co-worker to come out and tell their stories. Any employer whose workers were subjected to this kind of behavior is at risk of being sued, regardless of whether or not the employer knew about the incident.

The costs of sexual harassment lawsuits can debilitate, if not sink a small business, considering the high settlement costs, attorney fees – and even awards if the cases go to trial.

As an employer you should already have anti-harassment policies in place, including a safe way for an employee to report harassment without fear of losing their job. In the #MeToo era, you should revisit your policy and consider new training for all employees, supervisors and management. Companies must be ready to quickly address sexual harassment, assault and discrimination in the workplace as it is uncovered.

 

What’s happening

A movement that started out in very high-profile, public industries and in politics will soon spread into the hallways of everyday American businesses.

The #MeToo movement has exposed unacceptable predatory behavior in the workplace. It has also shown that there is no room for tolerance of sexual harassment.

There are different types of sexual harassment and as an employer you should be aware of the differences.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the federal law which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, or religion. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.

Sexual harassment can include one or more of the following:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Visual, verbal or physical conduct that is sexual in nature.

There are two main types of sexual harassment in the work environment:

  • Quid pro quo, when usually a superior will make sexual advances or requests as a condition of employment or promotion. This could include a manager threatening termination unless the employee performs sexual favors, or a manager promising a promotion in exchange for sex.
  • A fellow employee or superior that may engage in unwanted physical contact, making vulgar or obscene comments, making sexual requests – or in the worst case, rape.

Companies must address sexual harassment through anti-harassment policies and sexual harassment prevention training with the goal of ending harassment rather than just attempting to avoid litigation. The training should be continuous and engaging.

Employers must create and communicate sexual harassment policies and promptly investigate all sexual harassment claims thoroughly.

Businesses should also have a fair and confidential system in place for reporting sexual harassment without risk of retaliation. All complaints should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.

Punishments must only been meted out after the investigation, and the punishment should fit the infraction, including firing if need be.

 

The final backstop: Insurance

Employers need to protect themselves financially from liability, but also create a safe work environment. Employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) will cover many of the costs associated with a sexual harassment action by an employee, including:

  • Legal costs
  • Settlements
  • Jury awards

In addition, in order to provide a legal defense and pay damages, some EPLI policies may include resources to help business owners create policies and procedures, training and awareness campaigns that may reduce the potential for future claims.

EPLI policies actually go further than just sexual harassment and discrimination. They also cover similar expenses associated with lawsuits alleging:

  • Discrimination
  • Wrongful termination
  • Breach of employment contract
  • Emotional distress or mental anguish
  • Invasion of privacy