Safe Solutions

Using cell phones

Bob and Ed, co-owners of High Point Roofing, drove out of the company yard with a load of metal flashings to drop at a job site on their way to a daily round of estimates.

As Ed drove, Bob used his cell phone to contact some customers and double-check the addresses to which they were headed. Ed yelled suddenly as he slammed on his brakes.

"Did you see that guy?" Ed shouted. "He wasn't even looking! He almost took off the front of my truck!"

"What do you expect?" asked Bob. "He was talking on a cell phone."

"There should be a law," Ed muttered.

Bob told Ed that the near-miss is the price everyone pays for being in constant communication through cellular technology.

"You lose safety for the convenience," Bob explained.

"That makes no sense," Ed replied. "What if one of our guys did that on a roof?"

"Different situation," Bob countered. "Nobody is going to get hurt by a cell phone call on a roof."

By that time, Ed had wheeled the truck into the job site so they could drop off the load of flashings.

"Hey, Bob," Ed called, eyeing the roof as he jumped out of the truck's cab. "I thought you said no one can get hurt by a cell phone on a roof?"

Ed pointed to the roof of the large warehouse on which the High Point Roofing crew was working. Warning lines were set up properly, and a couple of crew members were installing the edge flashing while being monitored by Tony, another crew member.

However, Bob and Ed noticed Tony, who was wearing his orange safety monitor vest, was on his cell phone. He was pacing back and forth on the roof, gesturing wildly and looking everywhere but at his crew. It was obvious Tony was engrossed in his telephone conversation and not paying attention to the two workers he was supposed to be monitoring.

"Maybe I need to re-evaluate my position on cell phones," Bob confessed. "Let's talk to Tony."

The owners told the crew to take a break and pulled Tony aside to explain the job of a safety monitor and why it is important for him not to engage in activities that distract him from watching the crew members. They told Tony his cell phone should remain in his truck while he works.

After reprimanding Tony, Ed told Bob that after they completed their estimates, they should work on some additional rules for cell phone use by crew members.

As they visited their customers that day, Ed and Bob discussed issues related to cell phone use.

"Someone has to have a cell phone on the roof for problems and emergencies," Bob offered.

"Agreed," Ed replied. "But we can't allow every crew member to have his cell phone when he's working. It's inviting injury."

"Well, what about when they're driving?" Bob said. "We can't stop them from using their phones then."

Ed disagreed, explaining: "They're driving our trucks, and we need to set the rules for usage of company vehicles and equipment to avoid injuries and accidents."

Ed reminded Bob of a study by the National Safety Council that showed even hands-free usage of cell phones resulted in significant impairment of driving ability in study participants.

Bob agreed a comprehensive plan had to be developed and implemented to address workers' use of cell phones at the job site, warehouse and in company vehicles. The two owners set out the new rules on paper and presented them to their crew the following day.

Following are the cell phone rules Bob and Ed developed for High Point Roofing:

  • Except for the crew leader, workers are not allowed to have cell phones on a roof.

  • A crew leader must stop his work when using a cell phone—if the crew leader is acting as safety monitor, someone must relieve him of the monitoring duties before he initiates or answers a call.

  • In company vehicles, drivers may use cell phones only when a vehicle is parked.

  • Forklift operators, kettlemen and others operating powered equipment may not use cell phones while operating the equipment.

The two owners were confident the new rules would help their employees work more safely.

As they headed out the next day, Bob asked Ed whether he wanted to drive. Ed tossed Bob the keys and pulled out his cell phone.

"No thanks," Ed replied with a smile. "I've got a few calls to make."

Harry Dietz is NRCA's director of risk management.


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