Mobile-Only Zones for Construction Jobsite Safety. Pointless?

We circulated this article from ENR around our office the other day, resulting in an unexpectedly passionate response from our team of construction experts. These guys have been-there-done-that when it comes to construction jobsite communication and collaboration, so anything that gets them riled up is definitely worth talking about.

Mobile-Only Zones on the Construction Jobsite

The article titled Mobile Technology on the Job Site Brings Safety Innovation, by ENR’s Luke Abaffy, takes a look at how the growing use of mobile devices for construction projects has prompted several new ways to think about jobsite safety. Construction jobsite safety in relation to mobile technology can refer to a whole range of issues, but the element of this article that really got our team worked up was the notion of construction project managers creating mobile-only zones to protect workers.

The idea behind mobile-only zones is to create a safe area for workers using mobile devices to be able to focus on their smartphones or tablets without having to worry about getting whacked in the head with a crane or falling into a giant hole. These ‘heads-down’ workers are restricted to areas located on or near the jobsite, and are cited if caught using mobile technology outside of the mobile-only zone. The managers who implement mobile-only zones believe that mobile use on the jobsite endangers workers because they are not fully aware of their surroundings.

Here’s What We Think…

Our team, while understanding the reasons behind mobile-only zones, takes some issue with the concept as it is currently being used by the companies described in Abaffy’s article. We are developing a mobile communication and collaboration app for the construction industry in large part because we are concerned about worker safety, not in spite of it. Our thought on ‘heads-down’ workers is that construction professionals, including managers, inspectors, etc are always using some sort of tool that requires them to look down. Whether it’s a clipboard or a smartphone doesn’t mean you are more or less focused on your surroundings. Our Head of Product, construction industry veteran Julian Clayton, pointed out that “The article doesn’t mention a zone mandated just for clipboard use on the jobsite, and documenting something by hand requires at least the same amount of concentration as recording something on a mobile device.”

Citing workers for using mobile devices on the jobsite is extreme because construction mobile apps are used in different ways, and several uses require workers to be close to the item they are recording. In the case of FieldLens, for example, one of our app’s most popular features with beta users is the ability to take a video and record voice notes to explain a task or item. iRuler is another example of a mobile app construction professionals like to use onsite because it allows users to take measurements without having to carry around anything other than their smartphone or tablet. These features do not require workers to be heads-down; rather, they require users to be very aware of their surroundings.

It is certainly important that construction jobsite safety is being considered from every angle, but safety should be implemented in a rational way that doesn’t interfere with the progression of newly emerging technologies. Dictating where mobile devices can and should be used on the jobsite restricts the effectiveness of mobile app use. At the same time we recognize what a challenging issue this is, and we fully encourage safety training in regard to the use of mobile devices on the jobsite.

What Do You Think?

We’d love to know your thoughts on this issue. Come on over to our Twitter page and let us know what you think about mobile technology changing construction jobsite safety concerns.