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Employees Texting While Driving Can Jeopardize a Business

January 28, 2010
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Insurance firm Zurich Services Corp. is warning that businesses providing employees with mobile devices should be aware they may be caught in a situation of “vicarious liability.”

“We recommend that a prudent practice for every company to consider is developing an electronics usage policy and implementing it uniformly to help proactively manage this risk in their operations where physical exposures exist,” the company said.

Noting that Wisconsin has become the 20th state to ban cell phone text messaging while driving, Zurich, a global property and casualty insurance provider, advised that now is the time for businesses to take the initiative to help protect their employees—and themselves—from the potential dangers of distracted driving.

According to risk prevention specialists at Zurich, employers could be held “vicariously liable” if they permit employees to use particular technologies while driving. This could include operating a company-owned cell phone or mobile device while driving.

Since 2001, a growing number of jury awards have illustrated that businesses could be forced to pay the price for employees’ distracted driving, the Schaumburg, Illinois-based firm said.

“Not only have businesses put people at risk over their laissez-faire attitude towards technology usage in their workplaces—in most cases, they encourage it if it means increased productivity,” said Jim Noble, Zurich’s line-of-business director, motor fleet.

“But companies themselves—large and small—are now threatened if suddenly they’re faced with a hefty lawsuit caused by an employee’s negligence with an electronic device.”

A.V. Riswadkar, Zurich’s product liability director, said the firm recommends that “a prudent practice for every company to consider is developing an electronics usage policy and implementing it uniformly to help proactively manage this risk in their operations where physical exposures exist.”

Zurich offered the following guidelines for creating an electronic usage policy:

* Restricting use of all types of technologies—including cell phone, BlackBerry, laptop, MP3 player—in the company’s distracted driving policy;

* Prohibiting use of non-work-related technology gadgets in non-office work areas to help minimize distractions and other safety-related hazards; and

* Enforcing rules consistently and fairly with all employees.

While electronics usage policies by themselves do not guarantee success in preventing risks associated with distracted driving, the company said such rules “may help reduce exposure and, more importantly, send a clear safety message to employees.”

More information on Zurich Risk Engineering is available on the company’s Web site.

Filed by Tire Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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