Cell Phone Workplace Safety

In the past decade, cell phone usage while driving has sprang up as a major driving safety issue in the United States and many other developed countries. Originally, teens were the primary target of anti-texting and driving campaigns, but now that cell phone usage is standard amongst a multitude of demographics, the issue has become more broad and is impacting a larger population.

According to OSHA’s page on Distracted Driving:

The human toll is tragic. DOT reports that in 2009, more than 5,400 people died in crashes linked to distraction and thousands more were injured. “Texting while driving” has become such a prominent hazard that 30 states now ban text messaging for all drivers.

-OSHA – Distracted Driving

From checking Facebook, to making phone calls, to checking in with friends and loved ones via text, cell phones have become distracting in the workplace as well, and many companies have, in recent years, implemented cell phone policies on usage to help to maintain productivity. Just like with regular driving, however, cell phones also present a safety risk to workers on the job, especially when machinery and vehicles are being used. In this blog post, we’re going to cover various aspects of cell phone workplace safety with regard to work sites.

Cell Phone Workplace Safety and Transportation

Many of the most problematic workplace instances of cell phone distraction, just like in the rest of the world, come from those who are constantly driving. In your company, this might mean that a delivery truck driver gets distracted and hurts a worker on their way in or out of your warehouse, or it could mean that they injure a civilian or damage someone’s property while out on a delivery. Either case you want to avoid, and with damage or injuries to outside parties, you have even less coverage (no worker’s compensation, etc.) than if you had an incident contained to workers and company property. The best way to void these distractions are to set hard rules with known disciplinary action.

Most workers will need to take their cell phones out with them, as they provide an easy way for you and other co-workers to get in contact if an order or delivery changes or to schedule a new pickup. This also allows employees to easily check in if they have questions as well. Short of somehow monitoring cell phone usage (costly and illegal), you’re left with really either trusting employees to do the right thing, or implementing other monitoring strategies – like in-cab cameras – which may be legal, but are still costly.

You might think of implementing an “Off” policy in which cell phones are to be turned off on delivery trips when not in direct usage for work-related calls. You can then periodically try to phone drivers out on the road; you’ll get an idea very quickly if their phones are actually off or not. Of course, these types of “over the shoulder” monitoring tactics are burdensome and take time from your day, and training employees to the point that you can trust them to behave responsibly is preferable. You can also print out safety labels (like this one) and stick them inside work trucks to remind employees about not using cell phones while driving.

On-Site Cell Phone Safety

In this article, a recent incident is described in which a worker was severely injured after a co-worker operating construction equipment hit him in the head with its steel bucket. The injured worker, a dump truck driver returning to the site to prepare to drive away the next load, suffered lung injuries and a shattered jaw, complications from which he still dealt with 14 months later. The case ended in a lawsuit to the detriment of, especially, the vehicle operator. When operating cranes, forklifts, and other on-site vehicles, workers need to adhere to the same policies as they would when driving a car. Because a worker will be on site, there is less need for phone correspondence than there is with a delivery driver, and a policy which prohibits cell phones from entering the cabs of construction vehicles and machinery can be implemented with relative ease.

Cell Phone Workplace Safety and Personal Use

While the majority of major accidents come from distracted driving, workers on foot should not use cell phones in or around a work site, as they risk placing themselves in danger while distracted. A worker who isn’t paying attention to where their footsteps are taking them might accidentally walk into a vehicle path or another material hazard.

In many cases, workers feel there is an inherent disapproval toward using cell phones while at work, but there is a growing contention, especially among young workers, over the fact that workers can take breaks to smoke but not to use their phones. You might benefit from offering sanctioned cell phone breaks in which workers can have five or ten minutes every few hours to check in one things, contingent on the agreement that phones won’t be used during normal work hours in between these breaks. This can be an effective compromise that keeps workers both happy and safe at the same time.

Cell Phone Workplace Safety and Outside Risks

Especially in the case of construction workers, distracted drivers completely unrelated to your company or project might pose a threat. When road work is in session, an outside driver might clip a worker or run into your site, injuring themselves or others. Some construction sites now put up large, orange signs well in advance that read “PAY ATTENTION” or “NO CELL PHONE ZONE” to get drivers’ attention and keep them alert as they move through the work zone. Police presence and/or reminders that traffic fines double in work zones can also help serve as effective deterrents.

Your responsibility

OSHA and other labor oriented bodies haven’t been forthcoming with exact rules on cell phone usage at work, and leave these determinations, for the most part, up to individual employers. The exception is in situations where company drivers are operating vehicles on public/non-company property and roadways, where they reiterate the need for compliance with appropriate the state and federal laws for your jurisdiction. Even if you aren’t directly accountable, OSHA may still file a complaint or sanction under the general duty clause, which requires employers to protect against foreseeable risks, so it’s best to do everything you can to address this issue proactively.

Additional Resources