Distraction due to Using Mobile Devices

By on October 23, 2013

An extract of The Department of Natural Resources and Mines (QLD) latest safety alert looks at the usage of mobile devices whilst operating vehicles and mobile plant.

FOLLOWING several high potential incident investigations, the mines inspectorate is aware of mine workers using mobile devices (including mobile phones, tablets or other social media devices) while operating vehicles or other mobile plant. Any incident involving a vehicle or mobile plant can be fatal, with 8 of the last 12 fatalities in Queensland mines involving vehicles or mobile plant. A recent message from the Queensland Police Minister Jack Dempsey is relevant.

Too many drivers are being distracted by things such as mobile phones, sound systems, on-board DVDs and satellite navigation, the Police Minister has warned. Jack Dempsey said the Fatal Four would now become the Fatal Five aft er inattention was officially added to this year’s Christmas road safety campaign. Speeding, drink driving, not wearing a seatbelt and driving while fatigued make up the rest of the Fatal Five.

“In 2011, 15% of people taken to hospital after a car crash were in a crash caused by inattention,” Mr Dempsey said “Between 1 January 2010 and 31 July 2012, more than 96,000 driver distraction offences were recorded in Queensland.”

“We all want nothing more than for everyone to arrive at their destinations safely. No phone call or song is worth the lives of you or your loved ones.”


This safety bulletin aims to:

  1. Remind people of the risks of using mobile devices (including mobile phones, tablets or other social media devices) while driving or operating mobile plant;
  2. Recommend that a mines risk management process has regard to the role of human factors in vehicle or mobile plant incidents by incorporating known risk factors in site risk assessments, hazard management and control elements.
  3. Reinforce that a mine worker or other person at a mine or a person who may affect the safety and health of others at a mine or as a result of mining operations has the following obligations:
    • Comply with the Act and procedures applying to the worker or person that are part of a safety and health management system for the mine
    • Not to do anything willfully or recklessly that might adversely affect the safety and health of someone else at the mine (Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999, Section 39(1a2f) and the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999, Section 36 (1a2f)

What is the risk?

Driving is complex, requiring use and coordination of cognitive, physical and motor skills. Driving while using a hand held mobile device can cause both physical and mental distraction which impairs driving performance. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), performance is impaired if using a mobile phone while driving, resulting in:

  • longer braking reaction times
  • slower reaction to traffic signals,
  • impaired ability to keep in the correct lane, and
  • shorter following distances

In summary, WHO states that ‘using mobile phones can cause drivers to take their eyes off the road, their hands off the steering wheel, and their minds off the road and the surrounding situation.’

Is distracted driving the same as inattention?

Driver distraction is different from driver inattention. In distracted driving an external triggering event (e.g. a ringing mobile phone) shift s the driver’s attention away from the driving task, as the driver is performing an additional task or is temporarily not focusing on the primary driving task. Inattention while driving causes the driver to pay less attention to the task of driving – this not necessarily triggered by an event, e.g. day dreaming.

What do we know about the problem in Australia?

Australian driver survey results and other research reveal some alarming information;

  1. Nearly one in four admit they are updating their status or tweeting while at the wheel. People are even risking taking photos while driving.
  2. Using a mobile phone while driving increases the risk of crashing by at least four times – the most common being ‘run-off-the-road’ and ‘rear end’ crashes.

How can mines effectively manage the risks of inattention or distraction due to mobile devices on their sites?

According to the WHO report, ‘Employers are in a powerful position to limit their employees exposure to distractive activities while using company vehicles through a number of mechanisms.’ The report stated that employer policies on distracted driving may also be a viable approach, similar to efforts to combat driver drowsiness and fatigue.

As mine sites ensure an acceptable level of risk, the risk of driver distraction or inattention should be considered when developing hazard management plans related to mobile plant and vehicles.

The mine site could review policies and procedures, and also consider the role of inattention or distraction when undertaking incident investigations related to mobile plant and vehicle operation.

Controls for risks of inattention or distraction

There are a number of control measures that sites could consider for
the risks of inattention or distraction. This could include evaluating the possibility of limiting access to mobile devices or phones with internet access, emergency calls only or hands-free only when parked in a safe location.

References and further information

  1. Mobile phone use: A growing problem of driver distraction. Geneva, Switzerland, World Health Organisation, 2011. www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/publications/road_traffic/en/index.html
  2. Department of Transport and Main Roads: Driver Distractions,
  3. World Health Organisation: Driver Distraction. www.who.int/
    violence_injury_prevention/publications/road_traffic/reference_ drivers_distraction.pdf

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