Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Put the phone down at work

Last Friday’s fatal commuter rail crash, in Los Angeles, may have been caused because the driver was text messaging and distracted, prior to the crash.

According to AP reports, federal rail investigators said Monday they would go to court to get an engineer's cell phone records to determine if he was text messaging when his commuter train slammed head-on into a freight locomotive, killing 25 people.

[Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times]

The pervasing (and invasive) nature of today's technology, particularly as it intersects with the world of work, creates safety and liability issues. Should this be a much larger concern for employers? Should companies adopt policies and have more detailed regulations about use of personal communication tools, like cell phones, BlackBerry devices, and other handheld technology, while on company time?

In 2003, the NTSB recommended banning the use of cell phones by railroad employees on duty after finding that a coal train engineer's phone use contributed to a May 2002 accident in which two freight trains collided head-on near Clarendon, Texas. The coal train engineer was killed and the conductor and engineer of the other train were critically injured.

Back in May, another fatal crash, this one in Boston, was initially attributed to operator inattention caused by a cell phone, when passengers reported seeing Terrese Edmonds talking on her phone prior to the crash.

After investigators reviewed Ms. Edmonds’ phone records, it was determined that she was not on her phone at the time of the crash.

This issue will continue to grow and escalate, particularly given that younger workers are rarely without their cell phone and other gadgets during work hours.

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