The Huge Cost of Unsafe Driving

The statistics, in particular financial losses, related to careless driving are mind numbing. While we can bombard you with statistics, suffice it to say that unsafe driving is costing the average landscape company about 16 cents a mile, says the National Safety Council. Crashes involving injuries cost substantially more, on average $504,408 for a fatal injury and $73,750 for a nonfatal injury.

Patrick McGuiness, attorney at Zlimen and McGuiness, based in Minneapolis and one of the premier green industry law firms in the country, explains the importance of safety training this way: “There is no question that driver safety training is of the utmost importance to any business, especially in the green industry where we are dealing with large commercial vehicles and often towing trailers and equipment. In the long run, all safety training pays off. The end result is less insurance claims, less worker injuries and an overall safer work environment. Make safety training a mandatory part of any driver’s job and, while it won’t prevent every accident from happening, it will greatly reduce your exposure to liability.”

Dave Sanders, safety and loss prevention manager, Ruppert Landscape, Laytonsville, Md., one of the largest landscape firms in the United States, explains that in order to address the problems related to driver safety, companies first must understand where they are most vulnerable.

“The primary cause of traffic accidents in our firm is due to backing up and rear-end collisions. Safety is a two-way street and everyone has to be dialed into the programs with information and ideas flowing up and down the chain in order for it to be successful,” says Sanders.

Sarah Lampert, human resources manager, Gothic Grounds Management, a leading landscape company in the U.S. Southwest, concurs. “I would say that a majority of accidents, where the company is at fault, are as a result of not practicing defensive driving: following too closely, not paying attention and not being alert.”

Research indicates that a commitment to safety from management carries over to drivers. According to OSHA, when incentive programs are initiated, the incidence of insurance claims, workers’ compensation claims and crashes were reduced by 65 percent.

Vehicle safety checklists make sure that service vehicles’ brake lights and turn signals are operating properly and that their tires and brakes are in good working order. It keeps small problems from becoming big ones.

Sanders continues, “Because safety is viewed as everyone’s responsibility it is also measured, incentivized and discussed at all levels. We have a safety improvement plan we call The Safety Net Program that is designed to promote hazard awareness to prevent accidents and to reduce injuries.”

Ruppert employees are encouraged to complete a standardized form for any hazardous or unsafe situation they observe and to offer corrective actions. Each hazard observation form is entered into a monthly drawing for prizes with no limit on the number of entries.

In addition, safety performance is measured at each branch by policy and compliance criteria, crew inspections and incident rates. A “Safest Branch of the Year Award” is presented annually, and the winning branch receives a monetary reward to host a celebration to recognize their team members for this honor.

“Safety is always at the forefront of our minds,” adds former Ruppert President Chris Davitt. “We need to continue to focus on the basics each and every day and emphasize its importance at all levels to get the results we want.”

Establishing new-hire training, mandatory regular safety meetings, working closely with insurance carriers and establishing safety goals are effective strategies that lower the costs associated with safety incidents and vehicle accidents.

Distracted Drivers


While there is no federal law against texting when driving, many states and municipalities have passed legislation prohibiting this act. OSHA reports that drivers who send or receive text messages lose their attention span for an average of 4.6 seconds, driving about the length of driving a football field. In 2010, the last year for which statistics are available, 416,000 people were injured in vehicle accidents caused by distracted drivers. The reaction time for a driver talking on a cell phone is about the same as that of a drunk driver.

Both OSHA and the Department of Transportation “call upon all employers to prohibit any work policy or practice that requires or encourages workers to text while driving.”

That policy is clearly understood at Ruppert Landscape: “Drivers of production vehicles are prohibited from using any wireless device for any reason, except in the case of an emergency.”

Gothic Landscape also has a written “no texting” policy: “No texting while driving (regardless if it’s state law or not) and only use of cell phones is permitted with hands-free devices.”

More workers are killed every year in motor vehicle crashes than any other cause.

OSHA recommends that employers should:

  • Prohibit texting while driving. OSHA encourages employers to declare their vehicles “text-free zones” and to emphasize that commitment to their workers, customers and communities.
  • Establish work procedures and rules that do not make it necessary for workers to text while driving in order to carry out their duties.
  • Set up clear procedures, times, and places for drivers’ safe use of texting and other technologies for communicating with managers, customers and others.
  • Incorporate safe communications practices into worker orientation and training.
  • Eliminate financial and other incentive systems that encourage workers to text while driving.

New hire training

Sanders outlines Ruppert’s initial driver orientation program. “We ask our new employees to agree to our safety contract. Our approved driver process includes a ride along “test,” in addition to other measures of driver behavior. Additionally, as it relates to defensive driving, we also have been using DriveCam since 2006. All production vehicles are equipped with cameras that record driving incidents triggered by certain actions such as sharp turning, hard braking or collision. DriveCam records any unsafe incidents eight seconds prior to the occurrence and four seconds after.”

These incidents are then used as a teaching tool to coach drivers on better driving techniques. Sanders notes that the system has also been helpful in vindicating certain accident claims.

In addition to testing, each Ruppert new hire receives a Safety Policy Manual at orientation that outlines the company’s policy with regard to specific safety issues including personal protection equipment, incident management, driver safety and drug screenings.

Ruppert provides a pre-employment drug screening to all CDL applicants and also enforces a random drug testing policy as well as periodic urine screenings. The company also may administer a drug/alcohol test, if reasonable suspicion exists based on adverse behavior or an employee is involved in a preventable incident or injury of any kind – workers’ comp, auto, liability or property damage.

Gothic Landscape’s approach with new hire training starts on day one, says Lambert. “New hire orientation consists of going through our basic safety program rules and regulations. We utilize our IIPP (Injury and Illness Prevention Program) as the basis for introducing employees to our safety program.” The IIPP is a mandatory safety program in California covering eight elements including training and instruction. The company also administers mandatory new hire drug testing for all employees as well as mandatory post-incident drug testing, including after auto incidents and work-related injuries and accidents.

Gothic is currently in the process of completing defensive drivers training and finalizing a “coning-off” standard for all crew vehicles. “We found that we did not have a standard practice throughout our organization, so our safety professionals developed a picture guideline that has been communicated to our branches. Each crew has the required number of cones, are trained properly and we are following-up to ensure they are maintaining the standards in the field.”

Mandatory safety meetings

Both Ruppert Landscape and Gothic Landscape work diligently to provide carefully planned and scheduled safety meetings. According to Sanders, “Ruppert has a safety committee representative in each branch that is responsible for training branch personnel, disseminating information and performing safety inspections at jobsites and on equipment. These safety reps participate in biweekly safety conference calls and quarterly safety meetings to review safety performance, including accidents and near misses, policy updates and to garner best practices by touring other organizations. This point of contact in the branch helps to create greater connection between what is going on in the field and procedures company wide.”

So-called “tailgate meetings” at each branch are bolstered by The Ruppert EDGE, a one-page quick reference training tip safety sheet that provides quick pointers on issues that come up frequently; topics include seat belts, reducing general liability claims and proper backing up. The company also utilizes a company safety manual and materials provided by their insurance carrier. Safety performance is also discussed, documented and included in employee performance evaluations and files. These standards help to determine an employee’s overall value within the company.

In addition to safety meetings, Ruppert offers employees various certifications and ongoing training in CPR, OSHA, first aid, defensive driving, work-zone safety and flagger certifications. Vehicle safety inspections are made as crews leave the yard in the morning, on a rotating and random basis.

The Ruppert EDGE is a one-page quick reference training tip safety sheet that provides quick pointers on issues including seat belts, reducing general liability claims and proper backing up.

Gothic Landscape also has a comprehensive approach to safety meetings. “We actually like to change up who leads these weekly meetings to ensure that more people are engaged in our program,” says Lampert. “We have found that while it’s perfectly acceptable to have a manager or one of our safety managers conduct these meetings, they are more effective when “one of their own” is leading the meetings. We want everyone in our company to be a safety officer and this is one of the ways we accomplish this goal.”

Managers and safety personnel take part in a weekly conference call to review accidents from the prior week and to help drive and follow up on safety initiatives. “Safety starts at the top,” said Lampert, “and it’s important for our managers to drive the culture so that it spreads throughout our organization.”

Gothic also holds monthly safety committee meetings, comprised of representatives from different areas in the company who review incidents and also develop and determine branch specific issues. In addition, each quarter, safety representatives meet with senior management as well as insurance and broker representatives to review claims and safety initiatives on a national level.

Insurance carriers

“We are heavily involved with our carriers and brokers,” reports Lampert. “We look at our carriers and brokers as partners in our safety program. We are not the type of organization that turns over a claim to the insurance company and never looks at it again. We are heavily involved in the claims management, making sure we have good relationships with our adjusters.”

Gothic utilizes safety specialists and risk engineers with their broker and insurance company who offer suggestions as to where they see deficiencies in safety programs and offer suggestions for improvement.

“They do site inspections for us, training, help troubleshoot issues, bring resources to us and introduce new programs,” says Lampert.

Ruppert has a safety committee representative in each branch that is responsible for training branch personnel, disseminating information and performing safety inspections at jobsites and on equipment.

Sanders agrees with the necessity to bring in outside help from their insurance carrier. “Our insurance company has provided us with their defensive driving program, the Business Vehicle 10-4 Defense, which provides training aids that include a script, CD and DVD materials. Additionally they also provide us with a loss control consultant as well as an absence, health and productivity consultant.” Their program examines past crash details that could have been avoided, common driving problems in heavy traffic zones, dangerous intersections and proper safe driving distances.

Safety goals

Both Gothic Landscape and Ruppert Landscape have ambitious safety goals established for 2013 and beyond. By defining their goals, both companies understand that they have made a crucial first step to attaining an accident-free workplace.

Lampert explains, “We hope to reduce lost time incidents to zero for 2013. We need to focus on preventing severe incidents altogether, but if an incident does occur we need to attempt to prevent it from becoming a lost-time incident which includes preventing litigation.”

In addition, the company aspires to develop and implement a consistent and comprehensive new hire safety orientation for all regions, which includes personal protection equipment, equipment, policies & procedures, best practices and the use of training crews.

They also hope to develop and implement a system of regular training company-wide; first, by identifying legally required training and emphasizing the areas that have the highest hazard (e.g. equipment, heat) and then developing a system of tracking so that all employees get refresher training at least once per year. Gothic will also develop a system of regular and consistent reporting of claims for managers to help keep them focused on safety and know exactly how they are performing.


Sanders looks to 2013 and beyond for Ruppert Landscape to: “Continue to raise awareness about individual responsibility for safety through incentive programs, complete job hazard analysis on all projects, manage DriveCam progress to achieve results on investments and complete two formal safety audits per branch, per year through 2013. We have a three-year trend of decreased incident ratings in all lines (auto, workers’ comp and general liability) and our goal is to continue that downward trend.”