Amtrak was recently in the news for an accident between one of its trains and a semi-truck. A truck in Fresno collided with an Amtrak train which derailed the train, caused minor injuries among passengers and left the semi truck driver trapped in his vehicle. Two train cars were pushed onto its side by the accident – leaving a startled and scared group of passengers and employees. Authorities are investigating the incident to determine what caused it. The driver, identified as Macario Medina, is under investigation.
While Amtrak does not appear to have any fault in the incident it does point to recent issues the company has been having with its employee abuse of drugs and alcohol. The Inspector General conducted a study into the behavior of Amtrak employees and found that since 2006 the use of drugs and alcohol has steadily risen. On an article in the Digital Journal “Today Amtrak employees stand at a fail rate 51% higher than the national average for railway companies in the area of drug testing. The majority of employees that have failed drug tests have tested positive for cocaine and marijuana in their system. Bearing in mind that these tests are usually done when the employee is at work, and hence engaged in the activities they would normally perform to get consumers safely to their destination, it is a safe assumption that Amtrak employees are 51% more likely to be high or drunk when operating or supporting operations on a train.”
These two issues may seem separate but they are completely intertwined as they all relate to employer liability. When employees are on the clock they are your responsibility. In the crash both Amtrak and the trucking company have liability for the injuries sustained by there employees and passengers. While Amtrak may not be at fault in this particular incident the alarming rate of drug and alcohol abuse by its employees will likely lead to additional accidents.
Employers need systems in place to protect themselves against workplace accidents caused by negligent employees.
- Employee Handbook. If you don’t have one – create it. Make sure to have a drug and alcohol policy forbidding its use while employees are on the clock or at work facilities.
- Deal with Problems Immediately. If you become aware that an employee is acting negligently or putting themselves, their coworkers or clients at risk counsel them out of a job. It is not worth potential liability to keep an employee – hoping they will change their behavior.
- Training. Teach employees how to avoid an accident – both at work facilities and while driving. Some employers may want to send drivers to defensive driving school as a precautionary measure.
- Accident Preparedness. If an accident does occur your employees need to know what to do. On their blog attorneys Millar & Mixon recommend “Take pictures of the scene with your phone. Photograph both of your vehicles from various angles (up close and far away), the road going both directions, street signs and anything else that would tell the story of where and how it happened.”
Through implementing policies and procedures aimed at reducing accidents employers can limit their liability. The best way to do this is by reducing the opportunity for accidents to occur in the first place. According to attorneys Davis, Saperstein & Solomon slip and fall accidents alone account for 1 million visits to the Emergency Room every year making it important for employee handbooks to address every aspect of employee safety. Also limit the amount that your employees have to drive and let go of employees using drugs and alcohol while on the job. You cannot completely eliminate your employer liability so also invest in an insurance policy that covers you. As a business owner you worked hard to build your company. Do not leave it open to risk.