Industry experts analyze causes of distracted driving on the job

Forest Products Logging root cause analysis distracted driving

Distracted driving top health and safety risk for logging operations

Top 10 Causes of Distracted Driving for Logging Operation

In this age of smartphone distraction and information overload, the logging industry in Ontario has identified distracted driving as its number one health and safety risk. Already one of the highest-risk occupations due to large mobile equipment, isolated work environments, and unpredictable weather conditions, new research says the use of smartphones and two-way radios have made distracted driving the top health and safety risk for Ontario logging workers. 

About 3,000 of the 62,000 workers in the Ontario forest products industry (forestry, paper, printing and converting) work in logging. Logging operations have double the injury rate of the remaining forest products sectors (6.22 vs. 3.22 injury rate per 100 workers). Also, in 2017, about 24 per cent of all logging lost-time injuries were the result of a transportation incident, both highway and non-highway driving.

Logging operations use large trucks and mobile mechanical harvesting equipment such as feller-bunchers, chippers, and delimbers, and many high-risk concerns involve the danger zone around machinery, including not properly locking out equipment or improper equipment isolation, getting caught in or compressed by mobile equipment, and not locking out mobile equipment to do maintenance around blades.

Two years of research, consultation and validation with industry participants

In November 2017, a volunteer group of industry subject matter experts met face-to-face at Workplace Safety North (WSN) headquarters in North Bay to conduct a workplace risk assessment workshop for Ontario logging operations. The group of 16 representatives from management, labour, government, and not-for-profit organizations, was facilitated by Sujoy Dey, Ph.D., Corporate Risk Officer at the Ministry of Labour (MOL).

In advance of the workshop, each person submitted top health and safety concerns, so that during the one-day workshop, all 83 identified risks were reviewed and discussed by the group. Both labour and management agreed: the top dangers logging workers face include distracted driving, impairment, and machinery danger zones. 

Identifying leading indicators

“Using the risk assessment method and analyzing its root causes within the workplace is an extremely effective method to understand and identify leading indicators that allow industry to work more proactively in addressing key concerns,” says Dr. Dey. 

Following review and discussion, both industry labour and management voted that the top risk was distracted driving: “Distracted driving of vehicles or mobile equipment can have serious unintended adverse effects on the safety and well-being of the driver, operator, fellow workers, and the community.”

One year later, in September 2018, a group of industry experts met for two days to determine the root causes of distracted driving in the workplace, and to develop critical controls and specific activities that could be put in place to address the identified issue.

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving happens when a driver’s attention is taken away from the driving task because they are focused on something else. They can be severely affected by speed, road conditions, or unexpected hazards. In the case of logging operations, this could be, for example:

  • Texting

  • Talking on the phone – hands-free or not

  • Talking on two-way radio

  • Looking up information on the phone

  • Looking at social media on the phone

  • Eating or drinking

  • Using GPS navigation system

The risk of a collision goes up when a driver’s eyes and attention are taken off the road. This is because distraction impairs performance and reduces a driver’s awareness. It makes drivers slower to notice and less able to safely respond to critical events on the road. Or they may miss them entirely.

Top 10 causes of distracted driving in Ontario logging operations
As identified by logging workers and employers

  1. Electronic devices (phones, FM or two-way radios)

  2. Fatigue (long work hours)

  3. Not appreciating distracting factors (become dulled to over time, poor road conditions)

  4. Lack of contact with supervisor (isolated, independent work environment)

  5. Substance use (alcohol, drugs)

  6. Inability to measure impairment (e.g. drug tests)

  7. Multi-tasking in the cab (using two-way radio, phone)

  8. No clear policies (e.g. communication and reinforcement)

  9. Inexperienced commercial workers (contract, new drivers, new to bush roads)

  10. Not following rules willingly (speeding, load management)

For more detailed information on the top causes of distracted driving in logging operations, please see accompanying technical paper

Controlling for the hazard

Next, the group of subject matter experts got down to work by sharing best practices as a way to begin the development of controls and supporting activities that could be put in place to address distracted driving in the workplace. 

“Once the group determined distracted driving was a top risk – something that is not typically measured or reported by Workplace Safety and Insurance Board – this dedicated group has worked very hard to share best practices and proposed controls that may be helpful to other industries,” says Tom Welton, WSN Prevention Services and Education Programs Director.

“Similar themes kept coming up in our discussions: the need for two-way dialogue between management and workers in the development of practical, clear policies. One of the keys, we found, was the importance of having approachable, proactive supervisors who make safety the top priority,” notes Welton. 

What workplaces can focus on immediately

Based on a scan of controls identified for the top 10 primary causal factors, it is beneficial, as a start, to focus on the following five common mitigation actions (current systemic weaknesses).

A. Proper engagement of, and involvement of the worker and management on safety (e.g. policy, guideline, and training development and messaging). High practicality and quality in a two-way conversation with worker and management

B. Availability of mental health training and support (understanding “mental health first-aid”)

C. Clear, concise, know-your-audience, practical and trustworthy policies (purpose, implementation, execution, enforcement)

D. Supervisors to embrace and enforce “safety first”

E. Supervisors to be approachable and proactive

WSN, in partnership with the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI), is developing a Safe Driving on Forest Roads training program.  When completed, this project will assist in communicating the hazards of distracted driving and other hazards on forest roads. A team of industry representative from across Ontario as well as representatives from SFI and WSN are currently working on conducting background research and assessment of leading practices for consideration in the development of this new program. This longer-term control activity supports the work of the logging root cause analysis team results.

To learn more about the critical controls you can put in place to help prevent distracted driving in the workplace, read the technical paper Root cause analysis report of distracted driving in Ontario logging operations.

Distracted driving statistics in Canada

Distracted driving contributed to an estimated 21 per cent of fatal collisions and 27 per cent of serious injury collisions in 2016, according to Transport Canada. These statistics are part of an upward trend of distracted driving-related collisions, up from 16 per cent of fatal collisions and 22 per cent of serious injury collisions a decade earlier.

Now considered more common and therefore more hazardous than drunk driving, distracted driving needs to be considered as socially unacceptable as drunk driving. Videos and campaigns like #PutDownThePhone and new smartphone features that automatically let’s others know that you’re busy driving are starting to help get the message across.


Poster: Top 10 causes of distracted driving in Ontario logging operations

Technical paper: Root cause analysis of distracted driving in Ontario logging operations

Distracted driving top health and safety risk in Ontario logging operations

Resources regarding motor vehicle incidents, includes Safe Driving Program, Traffic Management Plan, Leading Practices: Traffic Management Plan, Safety Meeting Talk.

Distracted-Driving-Root-Cause-Analysis_Final_Jan_24_2019 – Presentation

Is your workplace drug and alcohol policy up to date? – Workplace Safety North

Statistical Infographic: Health and Safety Snapshot for Ontario Logging Industry

Logging Sector Risk Assessment Results, November 21, 2017 – Ministry of Labour

Distracted driving – Transport Canada

Distracted driving – videos, statistics, resources

IWH work on provincial review supports new mining safety culture and systems audit tool – Institute for Work and Health