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IS DISTRACTED WALKING BECOMING THE NEW WORKPLACE SAFETY HAZARD?

September 18, 2012

At this point, most of us know or should know it’s dangerous to use a cell phone while driving. However, how many of us think that it’s also dangerous to text or talk on your cell phone while you’re walking?

A You Tube video of woman falling into a Pennsylvania shopping mall fountain went viral in January 2011 with 1.5 million views. She was texting and walking at the same time. Although most people thought the video to be very funny, the reality of this situation is that we’re seeing more and more examples of “distracted walking” which sometimes has resulted in fatal accidents where pedestrians have been hit by cars and trains.

According to recent studies, “distracted walking” is a growing safety concern. According to an article this past summer by the Associated Press, reports of distracted walkers treated at emergency rooms has more than quadrupled in the past seven years. According to data collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2011 alone, 1,152 people were treated for “distracted walking” injuries. In most cases, however, any statistics produced are most likely a gross underestimate since emergency room
workers do not always ask patients if they were using a mobile device at the time of their accident.

With smartphone technology today that has every available app at your fingertip, it has become an obsession/compulsion with people everywhere to be staring and/or doing something with their mobile phones. You can see this absolutely everywhere in plain sight – in malls, airports, train stations, streets, etc.

With the common usage of mobile smartphone devices for work, employers and employees need to pay attention to the alarming growth of distracted walking accident. And we may be approaching a point where we’ll have to address this issue in our policies.

The issue for employers is that, like distracted driving, distracted walking poses a real safety and workers’ compensation risk. Employees who use tablets, cell phones and other mobile devices in the field create growing numbers of safety risks for employers such as distracted walking incidents. Other environments may present an even greater risk such as those in which workers
operate loud, dangerous machinery. Even office workers are at risk for distracted walking accidents, especially in fast-paced, high traffic areas.

Employers need to start thinking about warning employees of the dangers of distracted walking. In high-risk areas, employers should consider making mobile device usage off-limits and add safety limitations to social media and network, equipment and Internet usage policies. Employers should also consider adding distracted walking to a safety policy. 09.18.2012

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