From articles to seminars, we often hear about the dangers of distracted driving. We read about and see ads warning about the dangers and risks involved with texting and driving — or anything else that can take our attention from the road. In this current climate, with so many companies running short-handed or with brand-new, entry-level employees, I think it's worth a few minutes to review what distractions during work hours could mean to our lives and businesses.
Many states have laws that prohibit the use of handheld mobile phones, texting or using other electronic communications while operating a motor vehicle. Hands-free devices or Bluetooth technology may be allowed for people over the age of 19 on a state-by-state basis. Typically, a driver can only use a mobile phone that is not hands free:
- When reporting an emergency.
- While parked on the shoulder of the roadway.
- Or while stopped due to normal traffic being obstructed with the vehicle in neutral or park.
In many cases, a distracted driver involved in a crash may face additional criminal penalties and or incarceration.
Many states do allow the use of Bluetooth earpieces (but most require that a driver wear only one). People even use them to hold conversations while on the jobsite. In both cases, conducting a phone conversation takes your attention away and narrows your focus. Remember Cooper’s code. People often believe they can multitask very well. After all, society asks us to multitask most of the time. I consider this a bit of a fallacy. I think back to the time before GPS. Have you ever tried to follow written directions in an unfamiliar area and had to turn down the radio to concentrate better? I know I have. I would venture to guess the majority of people who can remember navigating prior to Google Maps have a similar experience.
For drillers, the hazards of being distracted do not end when we arrive at the jobsite. Drillers often handle heavy tooling, bringing these loads into tight areas during the drilling process. What happens if a distracted driller ends up causing a severe injury while placing a load or connecting a tool joint? The insurance company — and maybe even the lawyer for the injured person in a lawsuit — subpoenas the driller’s phone records. Even without injuries, working while distracted can lead to equipment damage and time lost for repair.
What happens if a distracted driller ends up causing a severe injury while placing a load or connecting a tool joint? The insurance company — and maybe even the lawyer for the injured person in a lawsuit — subpoenas the driller’s phone records.
Employers need to take distraction seriously. When a distracted-worker incident occurs that would require an OSHA investigation, OSHA can cite an employer for not providing a workplace free of recognized hazards. While OSHA does not have a specific “mobile phone on the jobsite” standard, we are supposed to use best practices. OSHA’s crane and derrick standard, which I refer to here often, states: “The crane or derrick operator must not engage in any practice or activity that diverts his or her attention while actually engaging in the operation of the equipment such as the use of cellular phones.”
This can present a challenge. These days, I hear of many people forced from the office, where they oversaw day-to-day business, back into the field and onto the back of a drill or pump rig. Well, they still need to manage business operations. It always involves a balancing act between safety, setting a good example for crews and coworkers, and productivity.
So what can contractors do?
- Develop and enforce clear policies that prohibit texting and talking on mobile phones while operating any type of motorized equipment or during drilling operations.
- Consider banning the use of mobile phones altogether except for emergencies or scheduled breaks.
- Issue company phones that block features like internet or texting, and limit phone use to these devices during working hours.
- Consider a communal phone location, in a vehicle or a job box, for all phones during working hours.
Whatever remediation you come up with, make sure you follow the policy as well. If you can make it work for you, your employees can make it work for them.
Until next time, keep turning to the right.