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Mobile Hazards

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The distractions of mobile phones and social media are turning out to be a significant cost to modern businesses.

As we become more connected via social media, and more entertained by the readily accessible sea of apps, games and the accompanying notifications, we are losing some vital skills as well as the reliance on our basic awareness of our surroundings. It would seem that the more we connect via our devices, the less connected we become in reality.

As we lose the ability to communicate one to one, we not only lose the ability to construct a compelling conversation, but also the ability to listen and understand instruction. This is a real problem in our industry as we have a lot of young people entering our workforce who have no idea what life was like without mobile phones, iPods, and the ability to send or receive an SMS or email. They want instant gratification, they have more rights than previous generations and therefore generally are more inclined to do what they want without fear of retribution. It is difficult to measure the exact impact this has had on workplace health and safety. However, I suspect it has played more of a part than we know.

The most obvious distraction is the use of a mobile phone while either operating or in the immediate vicinity of heavy machinery. Not only for phone calls but to access social media, sending SMS messages and even listening to music. All of these distract the employee from the task at hand. You’ve probably seen it done on your site. Everybody knows it’s dumb, so what I’ve noticed is that often those wearing the ear buds, talking to their girlfriend or listening to their music, will wear a hoodie to make it less obvious. What does that do? Just make everyone around you assume that you heard them coming, or you heard the reverse alarm or the horn. You might as well paint a target on your back.

Some worksites are treating this potentially deadly, hazardous practise as exactly that by introducing strict rules about the use of mobile phones and the authority to even carry one. Designated areas are being established where a phone call may be made and the caller must remain inside the designated zone for the duration of the call. Walking and talking is not allowed as this gives rise to slips, trips, falls and/or the potential to walk into the path of mobile equipment. This may seem extreme, but if so, that’s just a result of your conditioning due to what you’ve been exposed to. If you think about it, taking into account the motivation for such a policy, it actually makes perfect sense.

The Hidden Toll

How’s this for putting it in perspective for you? An online source reports that by the end of 2016, as many as 12 people had died as a direct result of being distracted by the Pokemon Go App. The reported number of hospitalisations was much higher. Bear in mind what it was that the deceased were doing at the time. Chasing fictitious characters on a game they’d downloaded onto their so called “smart” phone. The costs to productivity initially being absorbed by businesses, are then being passed on to the consumer in order to maintain their profit margin.

Do the math in your head, if for example a large multinational essential service provider employs 5000 staff, each of whom spend on average 15 minutes per day checking their social media feed, that equates to 1250 wasted hours per day. Divide that into standard 7.6-hour shifts and they’re essentially employing an additional 164.4 people each day that they could do without if everyone stayed on task. These costs creep into the product or service you consume.

So, even if you’re not on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tinder, Snapchat, Viber or even LinkedIn, guess what? Not only are you paying for it anyway, you may also be injured at work by someone who is. The smart move is to leave the smart phone off while you’re at work.

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