Even as smartphones are breaking open the world of construction with new apps and technologies that are radically changing the face of the industry, there is a problem that is plaguing job sites and doesn’t seem to have any sign of stopping soon: the presence of mobile phones.
Distracted work has long been the bane of worksite managers, as they know that distracted employees are careless employees. And the ubiquitous use of personal cellphones is causing havoc all across the country.
The growing use of headphones has construction companies scrambling to rewrite and institute new policies for personal technology use.
According to Frank Trujillo, the president of Miller and Long Concrete Construction based in Maryland, “People are just used to it, so that headphones and earpods are like a part of their body, so it's nothing for someone to come in off the Metro or from the parking area wearing them and walk onto the job, clock in, put on their protective gear and continue on to work with them in their ears."
One of the problems is that there is no specific OSHA requirement addressing or prohibiting the use of earphone or headphones on a worksite. In September, the group clarified their position, saying that headphone entertainment on a construction site is permissible according to managerial discretion, “unless such use creates or augments other hazards apart from noise."
These hazards occur when the music masks environmental sounds that need to be heard, "especially on active construction sites where attention to moving equipment, heavy machinery, vehicle traffic, and safety warning signals may be compromised,” the agency said.
But even though OSHA has failed to make regulations, other agencies and organizations have. The Associated Builders and Contractors Vice President of Workforce Development Safety Health and Environmental Greg Sizemore told Construction Dive. Listening to music via personal headphones puts the employee and other workers in danger.
“That employee over there jamming to Mötley Crüe can’t hear his coworker shouting to him for help,” Sizemore said. “It’s just not wise to allow something like this into an environment where it can create the condition for you or someone else to be injured.”
Further, OSHA often mandates ear protection in certain cases, but the agency states that “A portable music player is not a substitute for hearing protection.”
Trujillo says that the problem is frequent on his jobsites and that he doesn’t believe he’s alone. “I’ve seen people on their phone, standing there flipping through it, scrolling, while a load flies overhead,” he said. “Or standing in an area where they shouldn’t be standing just to get away and take a call.”
“It’s not out of the realm of possibilities for employees and even supervisors to walk around on the jobsite and be on Facebook or be texting or looking at the news,” he said. “There’s just so many ways to distract yourself and the question is how do you manage that?”
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