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Wednesday, May 24, 2017
We Told Our Employees to Put Away Their Phones

Why was an energy company asked to participate in a nationwide discussion on distracted driving hosted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)?

Simple. We told our employees to put away their phones while driving.

We’re proud to be part of a small and growing number of companies that have eliminated mobile phone use while driving. Yes, that means employees are not allowed to use their mobile devices while driving – including hands free. It was a big move, but one that was absolutely necessary.

Our employees have one job when they’re behind the wheel – driving. 

Distracted driving claimed 3,477 lives and injured 391,000 in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. With more than 60 million miles driven each year by NiSource employees on company business, we knew we needed to take a stand on distracted driving. Our 8,000 employees and their families – and everyone else on the road – deserves it. The change means less distractions for our employees, so they can drive defensively and avoid other distracted drivers.  

According to the National Safety Council, 2016 was the deadliest year on U.S. roadways since 2007. While the country may have experienced its highest injury and fatality rates last year, 2016 proved to be a great year for NiSource with our best year in safe driving performance (a 13 percent improvement). Programs like integrated GPS/diagnostics, enhanced driver training, our back in/pull through policy and the elimination of mobile devices have helped diminish accidents and made us more aware of risks outside of our control. Since 2005, our preventable vehicle accidents have declined more than 50 percent. 

Act to end deadly distractions 

Earlier this year, NiSource was asked to join the NTSB’s roundtable discussion on eliminating distracted driving. It was an honor to be in the presence of so many industry leaders in safety. While there was great discussion around the efforts to eliminate distractions while driving, we also heard emotional commentary from families who have been impacted by distracted driving. 

Those stories reinforced that while it was a big change across NiSource, it was one that was so very important. Eliminating mobile device usage while driving has made an impact that reaches well beyond our employees. 

We’re changing our culture, which extends to the communities we serve. Fewer distractions and more focus leads to keeping our roads safer. This is just one way we’re trying to change the conversation and expectations about distracted driving. 

Relentless champion for safety

Since the launch of our mobile driving policy, we have been questioned about our approach. Those who are seeking the same goal, those who were taken aback by the total ban (including some employees) and those who have applauded us for taking action. Regardless of the comments, we’re glad to be leading the way in eliminating mobile device distractions. It’s part of who we are – relentless champions for safety. 

It started with our most senior executives. They took a ‘test drive’ and applied the policy to their day-to-day lives six months before we introduced it to employees. We realized we had become accustomed to driving and talking on the phone as part of a normal workday. We were not recognizing the risk we were taking. This was a difficult change because it impacted how we thought about our work day, how we communicated and how we managed time. 

This ‘test drive’ of the policy also made us aware that up until this point, we were creating expectations for employees to call into conference calls and communicate while driving. Employees felt they had to be responsive when called and that unintended expectation could have resulted in tragedy.  

We made it OK not to take a call while driving, but went a step further and made it an expectation that you never take a call while driving. Driving is work and requires everyone’s full attention.

You may be asking about emergency situations because we are a utility. We are an emergency response organization, which means our customers depend on us to respond quickly. During these critical times we need to arrive safely and not endanger ourselves or others with unsafe driving practices. Emergency response is about arriving as safely and as quickly as possible, without driving and talking, speeding or taking chances while driving. We want our customers to know that safety is top of mind – that includes taking our time to get to their house or business without distractions. 

National Safety Month is right around the corner. How will you be a relentless champion for safety?

By: Dave Monte, senior vice president of safety, environmental and training at NiSource; and Phil Wilson, vice president and general manager of Columbia Gas in Virginia.

Written By Dave Monte and Phil Wilson, Contributors
Dave Monte, senior vice president of safety, environmental and training at NiSource; and Phil Wilson, vice president and general manager of Columbia Gas in Virginia, wrote this article.

Need more info on this story? Contact our media relations team.