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Traffic accidents are a leading cause of serious workers comp injuries

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Risk managers overseeing commercial transportation fleets have long focused on the issue of truck driver safety, but other companies also should pay greater attention to employees' distracted driving that is causing many catastrophic workers compensation claims.

Auto accidents, often involving a lone employee traveling in unfamiliar territory for work or a group traveling to an event, typically involve nonprofessional drivers who have received no on-the-job training in defensive driving tactics, experts say.

“While companies have become very good at most aspects of enterprise risk management, travel risk management is often overlooked,” said Kevin Wilkes, Pittsburgh-based senior vice president and security practice leader at Willis North America Inc. “It remains a large vulnerability for many organizations.”

Del Lisk, San Diego-based vice president of safety services at telematics firm Lytx Inc., said a popular misconception is that driving risks are greater for a long-haul truck driver than a salesman driving a midsize sedan in unfamiliar territory.

“Nonprofessional drivers, such as managers and salespeople, often present a bigger safety issue because they have had less training,” Mr. Lisk said.

Rich Bleser, Milwaukee-based senior vice president and fleet safety specialty practice leader of workforce strategies practice at Marsh Risk Consulting, agreed that all workers comp managers need to address the issue, noting that vehicle collisions are the leading cause of workplace fatalities in the U.S.

“We need to focus on light vehicle fleets because a commercial fleet operator looks at himself as a professional driver; it's a core competency, but a salesperson is best at selling products,” Mr. Bleser said. “Another problem we have is that salespeople live on their cellphones, so distracted driving has become a huge issue.”

Debbie Michel, Chicago-based president of third-party claims administrator Helmsman Management Services L.L.C., said the top diagnosis among workers on the job involved in car crashes is neck injuries, which tend to have higher severity as well as a higher chance of attorney involvement.

“The research we have done has revealed that traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of high severity workers comp injuries,” Ms. Michel said. “The other thing to bear in mind with motor vehicle accidents that involve employees is that they are more likely to involve multiple claims because several employees are often riding together in a car.”

To minimize catastrophic driver-related workers comp claims, Mr. Bleser said every organization should build a robust fleet management safety program that emphasizes training and specifies polices regarding everything from the type of vehicles employees are allowed to use to seatbelt usage to distracted driving.

“You should have a strong defensive driver program, regardless of what type of vehicles your employees are operating,” he said. “You need to teach employees how to eliminate distractions before a vehicle is put in motion.”

Mr. Lisk said telematic and mobile video recording technologies once used only by commercial trucking fleets can help risk managers better track employees on the road and train them if unsafe behaviors are observed.

“These technologies are sliding down the food chain from large trucks and professional drivers down to nonprofessional drivers,” Mr. Lisk said. “You need tools to make sure that what's being taught is actually being used by drivers on the road.”

Ron Skrocki, Philadelphia-based vice president of product management development workers comp case manager Genex Services Inc., said telematic system data can be merged with workers comp claims and medical data to form predictive models.

“One of the causes of catastrophic claims is people falling asleep behind the wheel,” he said. “Using the data, we were able to work backwards and see that in many cases, the driver had undiagnosed sleep apnea. It then became a wellness issue.”

Insurance is another way to mitigate driver-related risks.

Dominick Zenzola, Chicago-based vice president and employee group benefits manager of accident and health at Chubb & Son, said dedicated business travel policies can supplement other insurance coverage.

“If you have a sales staff that travels locally or to a different state, the business travel plan can provide a number of benefits, such as accidental death benefits,” Mr. Zenzola said.