Is Distracted Walking on the Job a Hazard?

Professional using smartphone while walking on the streetProfessional using smartphone while walking on the street

The term distracted driving has become much-discussed as of late, but distracted walking is another common phenomenon. From crossing intersections to pushing shopping carts in crowded parking lots, you can see pedestrians focused more on their smartphones in potentially dangerous situations than their surroundings. There are near-misses with passing cars, twisted ankles on potholes and collisions with objects or other distracted walkers.

Injuries from walking while using a cell phone more than doubled over a five-year period, while the total number of pedestrian injuries dropped during the same time period.1 Researchers believe the actual numbers might be higher than reported, especially if patients are reluctant to share the true cause of their injuries. It has become such a problem that for the first time, the National Safety Council included cell phone distracted walking as a cause of unintentional deaths and injuries in its 2015 Injury Facts Report.2

When distracted walking meets the workplace, employee health can suffer. Workers operating machinery while texting or using their smartphones may injure themselves or others, which may lead to lost time from work. Employees more focused on their devices than another person as they pass in common corridors may not be as engaged in their immediate surroundings and might not see potential hazards.

Creating a Formal Policy

There are also concerns about productivity associated with distracted walking. If you go to a common area in a company, you will likely find employees walking and talking or texting during business hours. Distracted walking can be part of a broader conversation about the use of mobile devices, personal email, texting and browsing the Internet during the work day.

A formal policy to address distracted walking, as part of a policy on the appropriate use of personal devices in the workplace, can help set some guidelines for employees and reduce distractions. As with all aspects of creating a culture of safety, it is important that people at all levels of the company adhere to the policy.