Few people would argue with the point that talking or texting on a cell phone while driving causes dangerous and potentially fatal distractions.
But a worker doesn’t need to be behind the wheel to be distracted while using a cell phone. Whether deeply engaged in a cell phone call or busily texting a message while walking across the shop floor, a worker may be zoned out and oblivious to forklift and other traffic, machine hazards and other dangers.
Sure, using a cell phone in an office probably isn’t dangerous. But if workers are on the shop floor, on a roof, in a trench or any place where they need to stay aware of their surroundings, cell phones can be a menace.
In one case, a road construction worker suffered serious injuries while talking on a cell phone when he stepped into the path of a passing truck.
Workers don’t even need to be walking while talking or texting on a cell phone to be in danger. For example, if a worker needs to remove gloves or other PPE to use a cell phone, he or she is temporarily unprotected against hazards posed by running machinery or chemical processes.
Another potential hazard created by the sudden ringing of a cell phone is that a worker could be in the middle of a procedure that requires following complicated steps in a precise sequence. When the worker returns to the task after the call, he or she may have lost track of whether a step was performed.
If a critical step is performed twice instead of once, a dangerous error may result. At best, a batch of material might be ruined by the addition of twice as much of a called for ingredient, or at worst, the mistake could injure or kill the worker and others. Skipping a critical step could also bring disastrous consequences.
Supervisors have a general duty to protect workers’ health and safety, so if workers are using cell phones while performing safety sensitive tasks, whether driving-related or otherwise, you need to put an end to that practice.
One way to avoid confusion is to write a blanket policy covering the use of cell phones in vehicles and in the workplace. It’s probably unrealistic to ban the use of cell phones, but their use can be limited in a policy.
For example, your policy might direct drivers to not take or make cell phone calls unless they first pull over and stop. And the policy can direct other workers to only use cell phones and other communication devices during breaks in designated areas, or in emergencies.
The policy should spell out the use of such devices to include:
Talking Playing games Surfing the internet Checking email, and Sending text messages.
Workers caught violating the policy should be warned and if the practice continues, they should be disciplined. In serious cases, offenders may need to be fired.