Cell Phones at Work: Productive Tool or Dangerous Distraction?

Cell phones at work

It wasn't all that long ago that cell phones and tablets were completely off-limits at work. But today's businesses have realized that digital devices offer their employees better availability and can provide more means of productivity. For certain industries, however, this means that there are additional safety concerns that must be considered. 

What Mobile Devices do to Productivity

If you search this topic online, the main things that come up are all of the ways in which cell phones are killing productivity. Everyone's addicted to their phones, they say, and employers are paying the price. Headlines suggest that employers lose around 5 hours or more of productivity each day. Users report picking up their phones 100 or more times per day. Trying to refocus after a text conversation or a few minutes of mindless scrolling can take some time. 

On the flip side, mobile devices can be incredibly useful for many workers. Those who work remotely or travel between job sites, for instance, or even just busy managers who don't spend much time at their desk -- for some of those folks, a cell phone or tablet helps them stay connected and keeps their documents or communication easily available. Some online articles (which are harder to find, of course) tout mobile devices' abilitiy to actually increase productivity. 

Dangers of Improper Cell Phone Use

The science behind cell phones' impact on safety is pretty grim. Researchers have compared the level of distraction while operating a cell phone to having a blood alcohol level of 0.08. The National Safety Council estimates that 1.6 million crashes are caused by drivers using cell phones and texting each year. Research also has shown that a cell phone conversation while driving is a greater distraction than conversing with a passenger. Drivers reacted significantly slower to unexpected events in the first two minutes of the phone conversation and are, for a large part of the conversation, unaware of traffic movements around them. 

Transferring that data to considering a jobsite can indicate some inherent dangers. Hopefully it's pretty obvious that the level of distraction can be incredibly problematic if your job involves heavy equipment, power tools, chemicals, or anything that has high levels of risk already, adding mobile devices to the mix can be a recipe for disaster. 

Here are some of the most notable dangers of mobile devices, particularly in manufacturing, construction, and other industries.

  • Cell phone use can cause inattention on the plant floor, outside the facility, in a company vehicle, or on the job site
  • Cell phone use in a noisy environment causes the user to focus even more intently on the call and less on their surroundings 
  • Co-workers can be distracted by other employee’s cell phone use
  • Inattention distraction may result in property damage or physical injury

Avoid Distractions

So, how to mitigate some of those dangers? Here are some of the key solutions. 

  • Never use a cell phone while operating equipment or working on the production floor
  • Never use a cell phone to send or receive text messages while operating equipment or working on the production floor
  • As with driving, your work tasks require your full attention
  • Store your cell phone in an area where it’s ring will not startle you or a co-worker in the area
  • Let calls go straight to voicemail and be retrieved at a later time
  • Do not text while driving a motor vehicle (DOT regulations prohibit truck drivers from texting while driving a commercial vehicle)

Be Aware of Hazards

And, finally, here are some awareness suggestions that can help you identify and reduce potential issues. 

  • For supervisors that must use a cell phone for work, step aside from the work area and moving equipment into a safe spot to make or receive calls
  • Do not operate a cell phone around flammable liquids
  • Know site-specific hazard areas associated with cell phone use
  • If you see someone talking on a cell phone and standing in an active work area (such as a salesman or project manager), recognize that they are probably not fully aware of activities going on around them and make a point to watch out for them.
  • Turn off cell phones within 100 feet of any blasting area

Cell Phone: Villian or Friend?

A cell phone is both a useful tool and a potentially dangerous distraction. It's not enough to say it's simply one thing or another. Rather, depending on your particular industry and worksite, you can make the determination about mobile device use and restrictions. The most important thing is understanding the potential risks involved in your particular workplace and taking steps to keep everyone safe. 

Together we can make work safe! Contact Northwest Safety for more information about safety training and services.