Mobile Phones On-Site: Harmful or Helpful?

15 January 2018

It’s impossible to escape phones these days. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 46% of US smartphone users say they could not live without their phone, proving the point that phones are viewed as something closer to an extension of our body, than as a technological tool. However, does this mean that phones should be accepted into the workplace? The number one priority on the worksite is the safety of workers and cell phones have always carried the reputation of causing distractions which could lead to unsafe conditions. However, with recent technological innovations, maybe it’s time to rethink mobile phone policy on construction site and consider the progressive effects smartphones could have on construction sites.

The Power of Smartphones

Machinery and methods are constantly improving to increase productivity; this includes methods involving cell phones and online software. We associate the use of cell phones at work with personal activity that is a distraction to the user of the phone and potentially his/her colleagues. However, given technological developments, it is important to understand that cell phones and tablets with smartphone features can have a positive impact on health and construction on construction sites.

The phones we have in our pockets aren’t just toys for Facebaok and Netflix. They are powerful tools that have capabilities beyond most people’s daily requirements. There are now a number of mobile apps that utilize the computing power of smartphones to make the construction process more efficient, through removing project delays and making workforce management more efficient. The question is about finding the balance between the usefulness of smartphones as a tool and their potential as a distraction for workers that works best for your business.

Pros of Smart Phone Implementation

There are almost inevitably going to be a few stumbling blocks that accompany disruption, but these are worth overcoming to achieve the gains in productivity afforded by technology. Strong and cohesive leadership is required to implement technology. This is especially true in regards to smartphones, the purpose of which on the worksite may be misunderstood if not communicated clearly. It is crucial that input is gathered from all the relevant stakeholders so everyone involved can be on the same page. When done correctly, new technology can be implemented without too much pain.

Smartphones have several functions that help to make the construction process more efficient. One of the best ways to use smartphones is as a complement to existing practices. Smartphones can help improve communication across the different components of a construction project, allowing management to have a clearer view of what is actually happening onsite. Mobile technology also helps enable design capabilities by making things like Building Information Models (BIM) easier and faster. Below is a list of just some of the ways that smartphones can improve construction practices:

  • Provide accurate and timely information.
  • Improving the design process.
  • Improve communication between different construction sites
  • Provide simple method of viewing and sharing documentation
  • Mobility
  • Timely email correspondence
  • Improving workflow
  • Improving communications between on the ground workers and management.
  • Searchable files
  • Immediate emergency action if accident occurs

The Implementation of Smartphones in the Workplace

Many studies have been conducted in recent years concerning the use of tablets and smartphones to improve construction site management. They have a lot of value, especially in terms of design. Investing more in the design stage of a project is seen by many experts, such as McKinsey’s Chris Toomey, to be a very wise investment for companies looking to maximize the return on their investment. Dr. Anoop Sattineni and Taylor Schmidt of Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design, and Construction in the United States published an article on the implementation of mobile devices on job sites in the construction industry.

“Building Information Models (BIM) in today’s construction industry is playing a large role in pre-construction stages for designing and clash detection purposes. It is also being used on high profile projects to show workers what phase of construction they are currently in and how their work should look once they have finished for each step of the way.”

Finding the Balance

While we have described some of the positive benefits of implementing tablets and smartphones on construction sites, there still needs to be regulations in place to ensure the safety of workers and that they remain focused on the task at hand. Workers are responsible for their actions. A worker using a smartphone onsite for personal use can be dangerous to themselves and their fellow workers. However, it is also the responsibility of the employer to ensure that strict rules are implemented regarding mobile phone policy on construction site, so that there is no confusion and everyone is aware of what is expected from them.

Posted signs can deliver reminders to stay off phones for personal and improper use. Software and apps have been developed to “lockout” personal usage on company phones and prevent certain actions such as surfing Facebook or other social media sites.

Cell phones and tablets should never be used while driving or operating machinery. Technology will dominate according to a study by the Pew Research Center, 77% of Americans are now smartphone owners, which is a massive increase from the first survey Pew conducted on this subject in 2011 when the number stood at 35%.

Cell phones and tablets are here to stay and their usage can have many positive benefits on health and construction on construction sites when used properly. They are small, lightweight, and manageable as well as being able to connect to Wi-Fi or have their own internet access depending on the location of the user. They can also include many beneficial features when onboarding workers before they step foot on site.

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Jenny Snook

Jenny Snook is content executive at GoContractor with the job of researching the latest health and safety trends in the heavy industry. Her past-experience includes the research of large museum collections such as the Louth County Museum, many from the industrial age.

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