Mobile technology can be a valuable tool for the construction industry, but when it comes to using it on the job site, there’s one device workers should leave behind: their cellphone.
Although cellphones can be a necessary method of communication on job sites, they distract workers from potential hazards and recommended safety practices. And, despite an absence of OSHA regulations pertaining exclusively to cellphones 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.
Employers can also violate OSHA’s cranes and derricks standard by allowing cellphones on the job site, since it states, “The [crane or derrick] 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.
Employer and Employee Liability
A construction worker who uses a cellphone while operating a motorized vehicle may face civil or criminal liability for 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 phones improperly on-site. As such, general contractors should be cautious of improper mobile phone usage by their subcontractors.
Minimizing Safety Risks
Employers in the construction industry should consider the following recommendations regarding cellphone use on construction sites:
- Enact and enforce clear policies that prohibit texting and talking on a cellphone while operating any kind of motorized vehicle on-site.
- Consider a prohibition on workplace cellphone use in specific areas where distractions could create employee hazards, regardless of whether the employees are operating motorized vehicles.
- For company-issued cellphones, consider the use of applications that block internet access and texting functionality while in a moving vehicle.
- Make construction sites cellphone-free zones, and post signs in designated areas to remind workers. Only allow workers access to their cellphones during break periods and in designated areas.
Besides the potential for OSHA penalties and legal liability, insurance rates can also be affected by job site cellphone 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 cellphones, construction sites can be hazardous. Enforcing safety practices and consistently holding workers accountable can prevent unnecessary workplace accidents and costly liability. Contact Robertson Insurance & Risk Management for more information on minimizing the risk of job site cellphone use.