Perhaps you decided to read this because you thought, “Of course not!  Everyone knows that is a crazy dangerous, not to mention non-productive.” However, studies show that walking and texting are pretty much akin to walking blindfolded.

Isn’t this Just Common Sense?

Researchers at Stony Brook University (study published in Gait & Posture) confirmed what many think is common sense in a study of young people walking while texting or talking on mobile phones. The study showed that “cell phone use among pedestrians leads to increased cognitive distraction, reduced situation awareness and increases in unsafe behavior.”  In short, it’s dangerous to walk and text!

As a baseline, the study participants were shown a target on the floor 25 feet away. Then with their vision obstructed, participants were instructed to walk at a comfortable pace to the target and stop. The researchers recorded time and accuracy observations of each of the 3 walks each participant completed.

A week later, one-third of the group completed the same task with obstructed vision focusing them on a mobile phone, one-third while talking on a mobile phone, and one-third while texting.  Eric M. Lamberg, PT, Ed. D., co-author of the study, remarked, “We were surprised to find that talking and texting on a cell phone were so disruptive to one’s gait and memory recall of the target location.”

The study concluded texting or talking while walking phone slow task completion significantly with 33% and 16% respective reductions in speed. Additionally, texting participants veered off course demonstrating a 6% increase in lateral deviation and 13% increase in distance traveled. Another study by Jack Nasar, an Ohio State University professor, reports emergency room visits due to pedestrians injured while walking with cell phones have soared in recent years.

Mobile Devices on the Construction Site

Mobile device usage on a construction site places your workers in danger and reduces productivity. Construction sites are inherently fraught with more danger than streets and sidewalks. So the dangers pointed out in these studies are miniscule compared to what mobile device users face in a construction zone.

You may not have a policy against working blindfolded, but you probably do have a health and safety policy against operating machinery, driving, or even being present on a job site while intoxicated. Texting has the same effects as intoxication when it comes to multi-tasking.  It is the safety professional’s duty to Increase safety and productivity by establishing and enforcing a written mobile device usage policy.

Developing a Mobile Device Usage Policy

Tips to develop your mobile device usage policy:

  • Prohibit mobile device use including talking, texting, emailing, browsing, gaming, or use of any other feature while engines are running on any kind of motor vehicle or machinery. Note that this includes company-provided and personal devices.
  • Require any mobile device usage to be done outside the work zone. This may require additional signage at work sites.
  • Provide tips for safe mobile device usage and etiquette anywhere. Examples include to pick your spot carefully when you stop walking to text.
  • Distributed a written policy to all employees
  • Require each employee to sign off on the policy.
  • Enforce the policy.

Continue the discussion: How do you balance mobile device safety with the productive use of mobile devices on the job site?

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