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  7. Mobile Phones as Backup in a Health and Safety Incident

Mobile Phones as Backup in a Health and Safety Incident


Two construction workers looking at a mobile phone

It will be virtually impossible to reduce the probability of an accident taking place all the way down to zero percent. Even with all of the health and safety training and safety procedures imaginable, in the vast majority of circumstances the likelihood will only be reduced rather than eliminated. This is because everything in life and a workplace has a potential for causing harm. Even those objects/substances which are not considered hazardous to health at all could still kill in a high enough concentration or volume, such as drinking too much water for example.

As a result, those companies which have rigorous safety controls, accident prevention systems in place and regularly provide thorough health and safety training to their employees still need to recognise the importance of having provisions in place should an accident or incident come to pass.

Telephoning the Emergency Services

One of the first things which needs to be done whenever an incident occurs that warrants it is to telephone the emergency services for an ambulance. A person's life or successful recovery may depend upon the time it takes for them to receive medical attention, so not only is it important to have qualified first aiders on site to provide assistance before the ambulance arrives to take the person to hospital, but it is crucial to call the emergency services as speedily as possible.

As part of the emergency plan, health and safety managers need to take into account how the emergency services will be alerted, and is usually considered when thinking about possible issues such as not having lone workers working in high risk areas/activities so that there is always somebody else to call for help should a person get into difficulties. In decades gone by, the only way to do this was through a landline telephone, and many emergency calls are still made on landlines. However, it should be considered that in an incident such as a serious fire or explosion, that either the telephone cable could be damaged - thus rendering the telephone out of action - or that people may not be able to get into the room where the telephone is situated.

To combat this threat, it would be a good idea for a company to have mobile phones available which could be used in the event of an emergency when an individual is unable to use or get to a landline phone. Although a lot of workers are allowed to have theirs with them at work, many organisations do not allow their employees to have their phones with them during working hours. This is either from a productivity point of view, to prevent time wasting through texting friends, playing games or browsing social media accounts on them, or because the phone itself can cause a danger in their particular working environment (more on this described below). Having mobile phones situated at various points around the site would provide an extra layer of security in terms of there being some way of calling the emergency services no matter what the situation.

Potential Issues with Mobile Phones

There are however a couple of issues regarding the use of mobile phones for contacting the emergency services. One is that, amazingly, network coverage and signal strength are still patchy in the United Kingdom despite the technology being around for about a quarter of a century, with many rural locations (and even some built-up areas) suffering from this problem. If a person cannot get a signal when they need to make the call, then the mobile phone will be useless.

Secondly, as alluded to earlier, there will be some places of work where mobile phones can interfere with equipment or cause a potential incident themselves, and so are banned from the workplace. Examples of these include hospitals where the signal could interfere with medical equipment, and places such as petrol stations or chemical plants where the electromagnetic signal could cause an explosion/fire.

Mobile Phones and Distracted Employees

In the paragraph above, we saw how mobile phones could cause an accident in the form of creating an explosion or interfering with equipment. However, the biggest cause of accidents brought about as a result of mobile phones will be from employees who use them at work and become distracted.

Talking on the phone or looking at the screen whilst messaging or browsing the internet will mean a person is not fully alert and concentrating on their surroundings. In any place of work, particularly ones like a bustling construction site with its many safety dangers, an individual needs to be aware of their surroundings at all times. Hazards and potential threats can come without warning at any time and from any direction. Without paying proper attention, a person could suffer a severe injury which could so easily be avoided if they had been concentrating fully.

This applies to all workers, whether they are walking around on foot, driving a vehicle around the site, or operating a piece of machinery. It must also be remembered that causing an accident through lack of attention may not just impact you, but could also affect the health and safety of your colleagues and everyone around you or in the nearby vicinity.

Performing repetitive tasks at work can quickly lead to boredom, which is one the most likely reasons as to why an employee may turn to using their phone for a bit of distraction and relief. Even if mobile phones are prohibited from the workplace and are not the source of distraction, employees can still "zone out" and stop concentrating fully on what is going on. Company managers can help to reduce this through initiatives such as providing regular break periods, as well as incorporating a policy of job rotation so that a person is not doing the same task(s) day after day, week after week.

Health and safety is ultimately about the responsibility and actions of people, which is why so much can depend upon a group or individuals paying attention at all times rather than being preoccupated and fixated on their mobile phones.

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