Cell Phones in the Workplace: The Health and Safety Pros and Cons

Cell phones are part and parcel of everyday life. It’s hard to imagine that less than 20 years ago, carrying a cell phone was a concept many people did not ever think would apply to the masses, and yet, here we are. Almost all adult Canadians carry cell phones.

Do Cell Phones Impact Health and Safety?

The question of whether or not cell phones have an impact on health and safety has been the subject of discussion since cell phones became more accessible and commonplace in the lives of average Canadians. There are two schools of thought on the issue: some opponents feel that cell phones negatively impact health and safety at the workplace. They argue that cell phones are the source of dangerous distractions, and have an undesirable effect on productivity. Proponents believe that being able to easily make emergency calls, alert others to unsafe conditions, and access information make cell phones a boon for workplace safety.

Cell Phones in the Workplace: Safety Pros and Cons

Pro: Emergency Services are easily and quickly contacted

911 emergency services are literally at your fingertips when you carry a cell phone. The benefit of having cell phones on hand in the event of a workplace emergency is that emergency services may be more easily and quickly reached using a cell phone. Some work sites are remote, and emergency phones or landlines are not immediately available. In the event of a motor vehicle breakdown or accident, a phone may not be available at all, and having a cell phone provides a way to contact roadside assistance or medical and/or police services.

Pro: Quickly access safety information

Information in the age of the Internet has never been more accessible. Now imagine how the information could be a benefit for health and safety. Quickly look up SDSs, send and receive information pertaining to potential or actual hazards and controls, and even look up medical information and first-aid how-tos in the event of an accident. For example, if a construction worker is injured on a job-site, emergency personnel might request medical information from the worker’s employee file that is housed at another location. Cell phones would allow that information to be sent immediately, preventing a delay in appropriate care.

Pro: Communication

Communication is a key part of safety in the workplace. Cell phones have made communication in multiple mediums a reality. When it comes to safety, the advantages of using cell phones to communicate are endless. You have the ability to immediately alert others to a change in the environment that’s created a hazard. Cell phones also allow for immediate updates, including changes to safe work plans or rescue plans. In the event of an accident that results in the release of harmful chemicals, cell phones can be used to warn others to stay clear of the area.

Con: Cell phones are a primary cause of distracted driving

Sometimes workers must operate motor vehicles for work. Whether it’s an 18-wheel tractor-trailer or the company sedan, distracted driving is always prohibited. It’s very unsafe, which is why it’s also illegal. However, distracted driving accidents continue to happen, and most people admit that it is sometimes tempting to check a text, pick up a call, or otherwise use their phones while driving.

Con: Equipment operations require focus

Along the same line as distracted driving is distracted equipment operation. Like distracted driving, distracted equipment operation is very dangerous. Although most organizations that use heavy equipment have policies in place that ban cell phone us during operation, those opposed to cell phones in the workplace believe that the policies are not enough to protect workers from the perils of operating equipment while distracted.

Con: Productivity and focus may be adversely affected

While a hit to productivity is not a safety hazard per se, it is a concern for employers. As well, if cell phones are reducing the amount of focus workers are putting toward their work, that is a safety concern. For example, some jobs require a lot of focus for safety. Using precision cutting tools, working at heights, and construction engineering all require a great deal of focus to get the job done right. A small error could result in catastrophic injury. As well, jobs that require focus for the safety of others may also be negatively impacted by cell phone use. For example, daycare workers watching over children, nurses expected to be attentive to patients, and lifeguards expected to keep a watchful eye on swimmers all create hazards if they are too busy using a cell phone to stay focused on the job at hand.

When it comes to cell phones at work, and whether or not they benefit or hinder safety, the answer doesn’t immediately present itself. However, being aware of the pros and cons of cell phones at work puts employers in a good position to draft effective workplace cell phone policies that meet the unique needs of their organization. Some employers that provide cell phones to workers as part of their jobs or contracts may also use technology to block certain services or sites that might be distracting to workers, or have rules in place about how to communicate and what kind of information may be sent and received. However, for the many Canadians carrying their personal cell phones too and from work, it is vital that above all else, common sense, the law, and workplace policies are followed in order to reduce hazards caused by cell phone use.

Occupational Safety Group Can Help!

Occupational Safety Group offers an online training program about cell phone use at work: Using Cell Phones at Work Training. If you have questions about cell phone use at work and/or how to create an effective cell phone policy, please call 877.652.5262 to speak a health and safety advisor or learn more about our Cell Phones at Work Training course today.

JHSC Part 1

Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator


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