Mobile phones a potential workplace hazard

A truck driver, distracted while using a mobile phone, knocked over a worker as he was reversing into the loading area, causing them serious injuries. The worker sustained multiple jaw fractures and a punctured and collapsed lung. Initially hospitalised for 10 days, he didn’t return to work for 14 months and required ongoing surgery.

This incident illustrates the sort of severe injuries that can occur when workers are distracted by using mobile phones in the workplace.

Many workplaces now ban mobile phones as they can be extremely distracting – especially due to the increasing popularity of smartphones with email and apps.

WorkCover Team Coordinator Anthony Nicholson said this was a good practice, particularly for high-risk work where workers needed to focus on the activity.

“But even in a relatively safe workplace, such as a warehouse environment, someone walking while checking their phone could easily slip or trip,” he said.

“Workers should consider the most appropriate times to use their phones, which, generally speaking, would be morning tea or meal breaks. What text message or Facebook update could be more important than your own safety?”

The risks of using phones while driving vehicles is well documented; research shows it increases the risk of crashing by at least four times, typically resulting in run-off-road or rear-end crashes.

Indicating rising concern, a guide warning workers about the potential danger of mobile phone distraction has been published by the American Training Resources website.

It states many workers do not give a second thought to texting as they complete daily tasks.

‘Just like other workplace distractions such as chattering with co-workers, horseplay or having our mind on something other than our task, being distracted by using the phone also causes us to lose our focus on the job at hand,’ the guide states.

It cites a tragic US incident, where a forklift driver checking a text message – contravening a company rule that phones be kept in lockers during shifts – struck and killed a co-worker.

Expecting ultrasound results to discover the gender of his wife’s baby, he was moving pallets in a storage yard when a text alert sounded. Excited, he momentarily looked down at his phone and failed to see a co-worker walk in front of his forklift.

The guide states that even if a business has no restrictions on mobile phone use, workers need to realise texting or updating social media while performing any task is dangerous: ‘Being distracted, even for a moment, could cause major injuries and property damage.’

To contact WorkCover NSW, call 13 10 50 or visit our website.

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