The Cost of Digital Distraction in Industrial Environments

March 3, 2021 by Jim Phelan
Read in 12 Minutes

Digital distraction has become a big problem recently throughout multiple industries, but there are few industries where the impact is felt more strongly than in the manufacturing and logistics sectors. Digital distraction is defined as the state of being distracted from the task at hand by the content one is accessing through a digital device, and according to a nation-wide survey of 1,769 full-time US employees, 87% of workers said that digital distraction hurts their organization’s overall productivity. It's well known that smart phones can be very addicting, and while many people have acquired the habit of checking their smartphones and scrolling through their social media feeds throughout the day, this can have serious implications in an industrial environment. 

In industrial settings, it was reported that 75% of digital distraction caused property damage, and 58% caused physical injury or death. Constant mobile alerts can distract employees, affecting their performance and making them less alert in potentially dangerous environments. Even with strict policies set in place, employers found that employees still get distracted by their personal devices. Like distractions of any other kind, digital distraction is behind significant decreases in productivity. Smartphones have been dubbed a “productivity killer” as three quarters of employers felt at least two hours a day were lost to distractions like texting and the internet. When phones are put away, people become much more aware of their surroundings. 

In the manufacturing, warehousing and logistics industries, it’s key for employees to be aware of their surroundings. While distraction causes productivity decreases for most organizations, in these industrial environments the stakes are much higher. In these workplaces, the risk of distraction causing accidents that can lead to serious injuries and property damage, increase significantly. For example, when working with heavy machinery, a distracted worker could get seriously injured if they’re not paying complete attention to the task at hand. Beyond the unparalleled importance of employee safety, distraction and accidents can also cause significant costs in time and money.  

25% of workplace accidents caused on factory floors are due to digital distraction.

The impact of these accidents is serious, so it’s important for organizations to find ways to minimize and mitigate these risks. Many employers want to make the move towards a safer, distraction-free, working area by removing the distractions completelyFor example, General Motors has implemented a ban on employee phone use while working or walking through facilities. They are following Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines, which are put in place to ensure the health and safety of employees while in the workplace.  Designated areas as restricted zones where smart devices are not permitted are called ‘no-phone zones.’ 

Things can get a little tricky when creating no-phone zones, which inadvertently includes completely banning the use of audio. While some companies are more relaxed in letting employees listen to music using ear buds, some employees take advantage of this leniency and secretly take phone calls or constantly look at their phones to change the music. With the stakes so high, many industrial organizations are finding that a no-phone zone is the best approach to keeping employees safe. The burning question remains - how can this be successfully enforced? 

What are the challenges associated with creating no-phone zones in manufacturing? 

While many manufacturing companies are currently relying on manual policing to enforce no-phone zones, this approach has its limitations. One of the biggest challenges is the difficulty in proving that a violator was on their phone at the time of an incident. This can lead to disputes and inconsistent enforcement, which can compromise the effectiveness of the policy. However, technology offers a solution to this problem. By using a real-time monitoring system, organizations can track digital device usage in no-phone zones and quickly identify violators. This not only enables more consistent enforcement but also provides valuable data on compliance rates and areas that require additional attention.

Another significant challenge associated with creating no-phone zones is when employees want to have access to their phones in case of family emergencies. While it's important to set clear boundaries and policies around phone usage, it's equally important to provide employees with a means of communication in case of an emergency. One possible solution is to provide designated areas where employees can use their phones in a controlled and supervised manner. This can help strike a balance between safety and the need for communication.

The benefits of implementing a “real-time” no-phone zone monitoring system 

All employers aim to provide a safe working environment for their employees. By eliminating digital distraction, employers are saving lives and reducing costs associated with time lost or damages. In a manufacturing plant, employees are dealing with heavy machinery that demands their full attention. Being distracted by a personal device can be the equivalent of drunk driving when operating or working near a machine.  

Furthermore, employers are ensuring that equipment doesn’t get damaged as employees are focused on the task at hand. Employees should be able to see and hear everything going on around them and be able to spot issues with equipment as soon as it happens. Organizations can also minimize downtime when they reduce digital distraction. When employees are focused on the task at hand, as opposed to the phone in their hand, they are more productive.   

With 14% of respondents to the Screen Education survey saying that at least one accident had occurred at their workplace because an employee was distracted by their smartphone, transgressions can lead to serious consequences, especially when half had caused injury or death. 

Implementing a phone usage monitoring system is a powerful option for organizations looking tmanage and overcome the challenges set in place with digital distractions. This includes being able to view where devices are located in the context of a digitized indoor map. By using a tool like Inpixon Aware, organizations can view transmitting devices (whether that be Wi-FiBLE/Bluetooth or Cellular), and quickly be able to see if that device is in an area that it should not be. This is especially important in areas where employees are operating heavy machinery or working on critical tasks and are forbidden from using personal devices (including phones, smart watches, and tablets). 

With distractions being one of the biggest causes of workplace accidents, it is key for companies to be able to leverage technology, because manual methods are not proving to be effective. There is a huge opportunity right now to take advantage of Inpixon’s Aware technology. It is an indoor intelligence solution that enables organizations to track digital device usage in no-phone zones on factory floors, allowing for an efficient method of enforcing this policy. Enabled by powerful indoor positioning technology, our solution gives you both visibility into your facilities and a robust wireless intrusion detection solution in a single, live security dashboard, so you have access to actionable insights to guide key decisions around safety.  

Book a short consultation to find out if Inpixon Aware would help suit your organization’s unique needs.

This blog post contains forward looking statements which are subject to risks and uncertainties. Please click here to learn more.

Jim Phelan is a VP of Business Development at Inpixon. His dynamic career reflects experiences throughout various industries including national business development and product management for industry leading lighting and controls manufacturers as well as business development for consumer electronics and home automation solution providers. He is a leader in IoT business development.