Apr 09 2014

Mobile devices onsite – an OH&S issue?

Safe use of mobile telephones and, more recently, tablet devices has become a contentious issue on construction sites. Many firms have long prohibited use of mobile devices unless the users were, to quote one contractor’s policy:

“carrying out a designated operation where the equipment has been sanctioned by the individual’s line manager and documented in the risk assessment and method statement; communicating in an emergency situation; or within an identified designated area for their safe use.”

The last clause above means use of mobileConstruction site safe zone devices is prohibited whilst walking or carrying out any site duty within the site, so that they users are not distracted, putting themselves, others at risk. This clearly extends to operating any vehicles, plant or equipment on site, echoing prohibitions on using mobile phones when driving. On site, “designated areas” might include offices, canteens or other rest-break areas; sometimes sites may have ‘sheep pens’ (see image opposite) with barriers to separate them from the ‘live’ working site.

Protecting people and machines from mobile devices

Safe use of mobile devices is also intended to help ensure the devices don’t become hazards themselves, perhaps being dropped into machinery or falling from height and injuring someone. And mobile device size matters: smaller devices are easier to carry and protect, but may be more difficult to use for some tasks such as snagging, where a tablet’s larger screen provides an easier interface for the capture and noting of defect status. Whilst larger devices are more hazardous if dropped from a height.

Protecting the mobile device

Protecting the devices is also a consideration. Construction sites are harsh environments, where water, dust and vibration could damage IT equipment, and where a broken device could leave glass, metal or plastic debris contaminating the site. And, of course, a broken phone would make it impossible to communicate in an emergency. Users may opt for ‘ruggedised’ devices and other precautions like tethers to protect them (and others) if dropped, while they may also need to consider how they use them while wearing protective gloves, headgear and other PPE.

Leveraging technology for productivity gains

Clearly, training and equipping staff to “carry out designated operations” provides ample scope for safe and efficient use of mobile IT on site, including health and safety and other site inspections such as for inspection and defects management (snagging). Companies are recognising that safe use of a mobile device can be no more risky than using a traditional notebook and pencil, and can lead to significant productivity and quality gains from:

  • avoiding transcription of handwritten paper notes
  • pre-loading devices with site schematics for ease of reference
  • automatic tagging with user and company details, and automatic time and date-stamping
  • using a stylus to markup defects onsite rather than typing text
  • on-screen prompts to ensure all relevant information is collected, and
  • augmentation of written records with digital photographs, GPS location data, etc.

While many site inspection processes can be accomplished using tick box-type approaches, it is sometimes necessary to record written information and this can be laborious to enter by hand. However, technologies such as voice capture software can accelerate data gathering (assuming, of course, that background noise isn’t too intrusive). And this may accelerate further with possible future use of wearable technology – for example, Google Glass – where voice activated software would allow use of a device without having to hold it, decreasing the interaction (and potential distraction) time.

Finding solutions to obstacles

So, while health and safety has to be the top priority on construction sites, it does not mean that mobile IT should be unnecessarily limited or banned completely. Forward-thinking contractors are identifying ways in which they can usefully and safely access electronic data from devices on site rather than relying on inefficient paperwork, and are also improving health and safety and other compliance performance by electronic data capture.

Related posts:

5 reasons why size matters when it comes to mobile devices on construction sites

Which mobile platform to use in AEC environments?

About the author

Michelle Mason

Michelle Mason leads the UK and MEAP Marketing team, with far too many years in B2B marketing to mention. A CONJECT newbie, Michelle is eagerly climbing a steep learning curve.

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