Study Says Digital Distractions in the Workplace Cause Injuries and Deaths

three dimensional mobile phone isolated on white whith clipping path

Could you be risking life and limb because you are digitally distracted in your workplace? Are you reading this blog post on a phone at work right now?

A survey of American workers recently reported by EHS Today found that 14 percent of respondents said at least one accident had occurred at their workplace because an employee was distracted by a cell phone. The risk of injury related to distraction is higher in industrial settings. Among survey respondents working in industrial settings, more than 1 in 4 reported accidents caused by someone being distracted by their cell phone. The rate falls to 11 percent in office settings.

Overall, half of digital distraction accidents reported in survey results caused an injury or death. Three quarters of digital distraction accidents in industrial settings and 59 percent in workplaces overall caused property damage.

We’ve known for years that distracted driving is a leading cause of car accidents and that cellphones caused a surge in fatal distracted driving accidents. As workers’ compensation lawyers, we’ve also seen distractions adding to the many ways to be injured in the workplace. Today, cellphone distraction poses a significant risk of workplace accidents.

“A strong majority of respondents say the problem of workplace digital distraction is serious enough that employers should address it,” the study by Screen Education, EMI Research Solutions and Stark Statistical Consulting says. “They say employers should address digital distraction by implementing policies that restrict the use of nonwork digital content during work hours.”

“What’s astonishing is that 47 percent of respondents said their employer actually had a policy that restricted smartphone use at work,” Michael Mercier, president of Screen Education, told EHS Today. “We’re seeing these problems despite the existence of smartphone restrictions.”

How Digital Distraction is Harmful in America’s Workplaces

The 2020 Digital Distraction & Workplace Safety Survey was based on a survey of 1,760 full-time workers across the U.S. in April. Respondents ranged from age 18 through 75 and older and held a wide range of jobs. The sample was balanced by gender, race and geographic region.

Respondents to the 2020 survey said the average employee at their workplace spends 2.5 hours each workday accessing digital content that is unrelated to their job. In the 2019 survey, workers said they themselves spent 1.4 hours each workday accessing digital content that is unrelated to their job. The report’s authors say the true amount is likely between the two figures because respondents underestimate their digital distraction during work.

“While this hurts productivity, it’s also a distraction that is putting employees at great risk for accidents – accidents that damage property and cause injury and death. And there is a higher rate of accidents in industrial settings, where heavy machinery, equipment and vehicles are used,” the 2020 report says.

The types of accidents cited were:

  • Falling
  • Walking into something
  • Crashing a company vehicle
  • Forklift accidents
  • Heavy machinery accidents
  • Standing still and being hit by something

The report provides some descriptions of accidents by employees and the settings in which the accidents occurred. They include:

Office Setting

  • “Person was on their phone … elevator door was closing … their jacket got stuck and it kept going down which made … (their) collar choke them and leave a red mark.”​

Healthcare Setting

  • “A patient fell because someone was listening to music and didn’t hear the alarm.”

Forklift

  • ​”Hi lo driver was paying attention to his phone. Ran into employee. She was … texting … the forklift bumped her pretty hard. She was hospitalized for a week.”

Industrial Setting

  • “Someone was distracted by being on the phone when their arm was crushed by a press.”

Driving

  • “Someone driving a company truck and they went to grab their phone and took their eyes off the road. They hit a utility pole.”

Nineteen percent of workers said they wished their employer would do something to help them address the digital distraction they experience during the workday. An even higher percentage of those who worked in an industrial setting – 27 percent – would welcome assistance.

Just over half of employees who were working from home due to closures related to the pandemic said they spent even more time than they used to during work hours socializing online with family and friends via social media, text, email and phone calls.

Occupational Injuries, Illness and Deaths in South Carolina

Statistics from the South Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration from 2018, the latest available, show 43,700 reported occupational injuries and illnesses across all industries in the state and 98 workplace fatalities.

Among 12,420 private industry injuries, those similar to injuries cited as occurring because of digital distraction include:

  • 4,120 falls, slips and trips
  • 2,220 injuries from being hit by a truck, cart, dolly, hand truck, etc.
  • 720 machinery accidents
  • 630 roadway motor vehicle accidents
  • 450 struck against object or equipment.

Among the fatalities were:

  • 47 transportation incidents
  • 14 falls, slips and trips
  • 9 contact with objects and equipment accidents.

The best way to avoid being injured in your workplace is to pay attention to your job activities and the actions of people, vehicles and machinery around you while you are on the job. Don’t give in to the temptation offered by social media and other digital content.

Most employers in South Carolina have workers’ compensation insurance to provide medical care and other benefits to those injured on the job. An injured worker can recover compensation for medical expenses and lost earnings, and disability benefits, regardless of who caused the workplace accident. Families of workers killed in workplace accidents may also be eligible to receive death benefits.

If your employer or the insurance company is disputing your right to workers’ compensation benefits, you should have a knowledgeable workers’ compensation lawyer review the details of the accident and explain your legal rights.

If you need assistance with a South Carolina workers’ compensation claim, our workers’ compensation lawyers at Joye Law Firm are ready to assist. We will first provide a free case review to discuss your options and, if we handle your case, then pursue maximum compensation for you. Contact us at 888-324-3100 or online to schedule your free meeting.

About the Author

Ken Harrell joined Joye Law Firm in 1994, and has been the managing partner since 2006. With 30 years of experience, he protects the rights of injured South Carolinians, including cases involving workers’ compensation, car accidents, and defective products. Ken also leads the firm’s referral practice, helping to ensure that our clients receive the best possible representation. He is a past president of South Carolina Injured Workers’ Advocates, and has served as the co-chairman of this organization’s legislative affairs committee for 12 years.