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Make the Smart Move with Those Smart Devices

Mobile technology can be a valuable tool for the manufacturing industry, but when it comes to using it on the job site, there’s one device workers should leave behind – their mobile device. 

Although mobile devices can be a necessary method of communication in the workplace, they distract workers from potential hazards and recommended safety practices. And, despite an absence of OSHA regulations pertaining exclusively to cell phones on the job site, OSHA can cite employers for violating the General Duty Clause, which states the requirement to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards.

By allowing mobile devices on the job site, employers can also violate OSHA’s cranes and derricks standard, which states, “The operator must not engage in any practice or activity that diverts his or her attention while actually engaged in operating the equipment, such as the use of cellular phones.” Phones may be used for signal communications, but OSHA requires a hands-free system for the operator's reception of signals.

Employees or subcontractors may think they are being cautious by using a Bluetooth earpiece or Bluetooth ear muffs; however, any use of a communication device not intended for the work being performed is still a distraction and should not be permitted. Adding further concern is that a supervisor has no way of telling if these devices are being used for communication or to listen to music or some other form of entertainment.

A superintendent or foreman may be tempted use a “cell phone jammer” or “signal blocker” to curb the use of mobile devices at a worksite. While a novel idea, this practice is in violation of federal law in the United States and thus cannot replace the need for a strict and monitored mobile device use policy.

Aside from the obvious safety concerns posed by the use of mobile devices in already hazardous work areas, it can have a direct impact on your bottom line. Studies have shown that employee use of mobile devices during work hours greatly hinders productivity – even more than supervisors estimated.

Even as technological advances have led to more sophisticated electronics and computer systems, the use of mobile devices may still cause interference with electronics-based systems and machines and may impact their ability to function properly.

Employer and Employee Liability

A manufacturing worker who uses a mobile device while operating a motorized vehicle may face civil or criminal liability for any damages they cause. An employer can also face liability for the acts of its employees if it fails to enforce a policy that prohibits texting while driving. 

General contractors can also face OSHA liability for worksite hazards if they fail to address actions by subcontractor employees who use mobile devices improperly on site. As such, general contractors should be cautious of improper mobile device usage by their subcontractors.

Minimizing Safety Risks

Employers in the manufacturing industry should consider the following recommendations regarding mobile device use on worksites:  

  • Enact and enforce clear policies that prohibit texting and talking on a mobile device while operating any kind of motorized vehicle or machinery on site.
  • Consider a ban on workplace mobile device use in specific areas where distractions could create employee hazards, regardless of whether the employees are operating motorized vehicles.
  • For company-issued mobile devices, consider the use of applications that block internet access and texting functionality while in a moving vehicle.
  • Make workplaces mobile device-free zones, and post signs in designated areas to remind workers. Only allow workers access to their mobile devices during break periods and in designated areas.  

Beyond the potential for OSHA penalties and legal liability, insurance rates can be affected by job site mobile device use. With distracted employees causing an increase in accidents, the cost of workers’ compensation and other insurance coverage is likely to increase.

Even without distractions from mobile devices, manufacturing sites can be hazardous. Enforcing safety practices and consistently holding workers accountable can prevent unnecessary workplace accidents and costly liability. 

Additional Resources

We encourage you to tune into our recorded webinar: Safety is Key: Reducing Workers' Compensation with a Safety Culture or check out our blog post Top Insurance Trends in 2019.

Your Team 

The content in this article is provided for informational purposes only. Before taking any action that could have legal or other consequences, speak with a qualified professional who can provide guidance that considers your own unique circumstances.

With that in mind, don’t hesitate to reach out to your CBIZ advisor or to the author to discuss information presented in this article and steps you can take to establish strong risk management practices. Patrick Buck is Vice President, Risk Management and Insurance Advisory Services with CBIZ Insurance Services, Inc. He works primarily with mid- and large-sized clients in the construction, manufacturing, retail/wholesale and health care industries. You can reach him at pbuck@cbiz.com.

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