Smart phones and mobile device technology have advanced rapidly over the past few years. New data shows that 85% of all Americans use mobile devices to access news – this means that these folks have smartphones in their pockets. Records show that America is sending approximately 6 billion texts per day mostly during 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM and that texting is the most widely used application with 97% of Americans using it at least once per day.

In fact, mobile technology has advanced more quickly than companies can create policies addressing how, when, and where to regulate their use. In just a short period of time, these new devices have endeared themselves to a working society as a way to keep up with busy lives.  How did we function before we had them? At the touch of a screen, you and I are checking calendars, calling school teachers, checking up on our kids, tracking a package, paying a bill . . . all from our handheld devices.

In the meantime, laws and policies that address texting and distracted driving have been drafted, proposed, and passed. In fact, 14 states ban the use of cell phones while driving.  38 states ban all cell use by novice or teen drivers and 21 states ban any cell phone use for bus drivers. Text messaging is banned in 47 states for all drivers. But what about other types of distracted workplace tasks, in addition to driving? Aren’t there other workplace situations where mobile device usage may be just as unsafe? Has your workplaces caught up with technology and broadened your assessment of the risks associated with personal electronic mobile devices. In many cases, improper usage affects much more than just driving.

Driving and texting is just one of many examples of an operating environment where distractions from the usage of mobile devices may contribute to workplace accidents. Instead of “Distracted Driving,” we need to broaden the distraction of electronic devices to encompass any unsafe task, referring to the action as “Distracted Working” instead. As with any policy, when creating workplace rules for electronic device usage, consider how best to address the hazardous behavior in the simplest way; consider the who, what, when and where.

In my next blog, I will cover specific types of working environments and job functions that should be included in a distracted working policy or guideline as well as some best practices for crafting your own distracted working program. In the meantime, please reach out to me, Chris Murray, CIH, CSP, at (919) 657-7500 or to address the needs of your organization’s safety program.