On January 11, 2015, a multi-vehicle pile-up took place in west Michigan involving nearly 200 vehicles, including at least one truck carrying fireworks, and another carrying formic acid. The formic acid caused a HAZMAT event and the fireworks exploded in the truck that was carrying them. Many were badly injured in the accident, including two firefighters who responded to the exploding fireworks. Tragically, the driver of another semi-truck was killed.
Winter weather and hazardous driving conditions were significant causal factors in the pile-up. Although OSHA does not have regulations specifically addressing winter driving, the agency does provide guidance for employers to help ensure the safety of employees engaged in this work. Specifically, OSHA urges employers to take the following measures:
- Train drivers how to recognize winter driving hazards, such as snow and ice-covered roads
- Train drivers on the safeguards they should take in winter driving conditions
- Ensure that drivers are properly licensed for the vehicles they operate
- Create and enforce driver safety policies
- Implement an effective maintenance program for all vehicles and mechanized equipment that workers are required to operate
- Ensure that properly trained employees inspect the following vehicle systems to determine if they are working properly:
- Brakes – Brakes should provide even and balanced braking. Also check that brake fluid is at the right level.
- Cooling system – Ensure a proper mixture of 50/50 antifreeze and water in the cooling system at the proper level.
- Electrical system – Check the ignition system and ensure that the battery is fully charged and that the connections are clean. Check that the alternator belt is in good condition with proper tension.
- Engine – Inspect all engine systems.
- Exhaust System – Check exhaust for leaks and that all clamps and hangers are snug.
- Tires – Check for proper tread depth and no signs of damage or uneven wear. Check for proper tire inflation.
- Oil – Check that oil is at proper level.
- Visibility Systems – Inspect all exterior lights, defrosters, and wipers. Install winter windshield wipers.
- Ensure that there is an emergency kit in every vehicle
In order to keep employees safe on the road, employers should also quiz employees to ensure that they understood the training. Results of the quizzes and any other training-related documents should be kept on file. All paperwork related to vehicle maintenance should be kept on file as well. Even though there are no OSHA regulations specific to winter driving, and employers certainly cannot control everything, they must always provide the safest possible work for their employees and OSHA can issue citations where it finds that an employer has failed to do so – even where there are no specific standards regulating the potential hazard. By taking these simple measures, employers can demonstrate their commitment to safety to both their employees and to OSHA.