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Cell Phone Ban Makes Us Safer

Productivity and convenience are important, but at Cargill, employee well being trumps them both

April 05, 2017

This story originally appeared on the National Safety Council’s Safety First blog

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and we are thrilled to share Cargill’s commitment to this effort. At Cargill, we work very hard to focus on safety and have taken efforts to stop distracted driving as part of that commitment.

We are a large company with 150,000 employees around the world. Add to that tens of thousands of contractors and we have about a quarter of a million people working in service of Cargill on any given day. That means we have thousands of colleagues driving millions of miles every day on behalf of Cargill.

We designed a policy – based on scientific research – that we feel gives our employees the best chance of staying safe while driving. We found that motor vehicle crashes are the most frequent cause of work-related fatalities in the U.S., and many crashes involve talking or texting on cell phones. Last year, in the U.S. alone, more than 3,000 people were killed in a distracted driving crash. With studies showing that distracted drivers have a slower reaction time than drivers who are legally drunk (BAC .08), we knew preventing distracted driving would be critical to Cargill’s efforts to achieve zero harm.  

Our enhanced Safe Driving Policy launched on January 1, 2017. It puts a total ban on using mobile phones for company business while driving, whether in a personal vehicle or a Cargill-owned vehicle. The ban also applies to hands-free devices, as more than 30 studies have found hands-free options pose significant risks as well, because they don’t eliminate mental distractions.  GPS systems can be used, as long as they are programmed before the car is put into drive.

The policy wasn’t adopted without employee concerns. Those who spend a lot of time in the car often use drive time as productive time. They worried they wouldn’t meet customer expectations of responsiveness if they didn’t answer calls that came in while they were driving.

We reinforced that, at Cargill, productivity could not come at the cost of safety. Members of our leadership team set the stage and became early testers of the policy in June 2016, at the start of our fiscal year. It was hard at first. A zero cell phone while driving policy is a big commitment and takes some proactive planning, but now I personally find it liberating.

We have learned a lot. The policy can’t just be an expectation on paper. It requires a corporate culture change and compels all employees to change the way they work.  We had to remove the drive time as productive time mentality—drive time had to become down time from work. To help employees comply with the policy, we have:

  1. Encouraged teams to change their meeting schedules, avoiding common commute times. We also provide tools to record conference calls, so those who have to miss the call because they are driving can listen later.
  2. Invested in a central call center to answer the phone for our customer and sales teams while they are driving.
  3. Asked those who frequently travel by car to schedule rest stops. This allows employees to set times that customers and colleagues can reach them while they are parked—and reduces both distracted driving and tired driving concerns.
  4. Shared apps that help employees stay off their phones. Everything from the iPhone Do Not Disturb function to Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile’s driving modes to downloadable apps that let employees notify callers they are driving and facilitate timely responses. 

Cargill is not the only company doing this. We are joined by many other leading companies who are also putting safety first by adopting safe driver policies. As we recognize Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we hope other companies who haven’t yet adopted a policy will join us. With about 100 deaths per day related to distracted driving in the U.S. alone, you never know who—an employee, spouse, child or friend—will make it home to their family because your company took a stand to put safety first.