Mobile phones are an undeniable part of our lives and important communication tools. But they can also be a distraction and can affect your awareness of your surroundings, introducing safety risks in workplaces.
Phones as hazards
It’s illegal to use phones while you’re driving on public roads. Using a phone while driving a vehicle could increase the risk of:
- hitting a pedestrian
- hitting another vehicle, equipment or structure
- dropping loads
- moving the vehicle out of the correct road laneway or designated traffic area.
Using a phone while operating other equipment or plant is also dangerous.
And if you’re using your phone while walking and not looking where you’re going, you could get hit by a vehicle.
Driving and operating vehicles
While it is illegal to use phones while you’re driving on public roads, some companies apply this to workplace settings. Others ban hands-free phoning while driving, because the distraction level can still be high. Another option is ‘engine on, phone off’.
You could apply this to vehicles that are never used on a public road, such as forklifts or earthmoving equipment.
Other hazardous situations
We know of the in-flight warnings about mobile phones, and the warning signs at service stations. This is because the radiofrequency or electromagnetic energy of a phone could interfere with electrical equipment and cause flammable materials to ignite.
Other places where phones can cause problems include hospitals, fuelling areas, blasting operations and certain manufacturing situations, flammable goods stores, laboratories, and bulk materials handling areas.
Think about phones and their use like you would any other piece of equipment in your workplace: you need to consider what risk they present to health and safety, and how you will manage them.
It’s reasonable for you to conduct a risk assessment and think of the specifics of your workplace and the work being done. Consult with your workers and ask how using a phone could pose a risk to their health and safety.
Why have a policy and procedure
Once you’ve done your risk assessment and consulted with your workers, draw up a policy for mobile phones.
Your policy and procedure should cover:
- what you mean by ‘usage’: calls, texts, emails, internet use; work, personal
- if you allow people to carry their phones, or you expect them to be surrendered or stored away (for example, in a locker)
- if phones are limited to designated areas or for emergency use only
- what restrictions you have when driving and operating machinery and performing other tasks.
Train everyone in your policy, and make sure everyone understands their responsibilities and what will happen if they don’t comply.
You should also look at your safe work procedures: for example, you may need to update them to include that mobile phones must not be used when driving.
In your risk assessment and consultation with your workers, you may be able to identify alternatives to mobile phones. These might be:
- landline phones
- two-way radios.