Dollop of Safety – PK Companies

Volume 12: "Pull Your Head Out - and UP!"

Jeremy Train Corporate HSE Director

As a country, we’re getting smarter and safer all the time, right?  It’s a fact that our technologies are saving lives every day.  There seems to be a problem in the human factor behind some of it, however.  Chew on this for a moment:  Pedestrian crash fatalities in 2016 hit the highest levels since 1990.  How could a spike like this be possible? 

Have you ever found yourself walking from place to place while looking down at your cell-phone or device?  Ever do that and not remember getting to where you are from where you were while doing it?  Unfortunately, I’d wager that 90+% of everyone reading this would have to respond with a “yes”, or even worse – “That’s how I’m reading this right now!”  It’s clear that distracted driving has taken a big toll on us, but what about distracted walking? 

Has it become an accepted part of culture to do the “phone-zombie shuffle”?  You know, where the eyes roll back into the head and the soul itself is completely linked to the little screen that guides you along the path.  We might become so engrossed in texting or viral cat videos that we fail to pay attention to anything else around us, like holes, steps, cars, or pit vipers.  Or… maybe sometimes it’s just a case of staring at the phone so intently we don’t  have to acknowledge anyone around us and thankfully avoid those awkward or laborious interactions. 

You can even take it to the next level by entering the “phone-zombie Demolition Derby” – otherwise known as a trip to the airport or grocery store.  I’m arguably hard to miss, but have still suffered direct hits twice in the airport version – bumped hard once from the front by a hurried businessman holding his phone out like a relic leading him to the holy land, and the last time I flew: with rolling suitcase in tow behind me we suffered a surprise assault from a fast-walking phone ninja who just shrugged it off and went right on down the line when I stopped to recover.  We never even saw it coming… 

Well, call it how you like on the social front, but on the safety end of things let’s call it a losing deal – sometimes it’s a dead wrong decision.  Here’s some facts around the issue from the NSC (Natl. Safety Council), AAOS (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons), and others: 


Since 2009 pedestrian fatalities have drastically increased by 46%, rising along with the 236%increase in active smartphone use in the U.S. from 2010-2016.  Not a coincidence – up almost by another full half!

• Seriously, it’s not me, it’s you:  A 2015 study finds that 78% of U.S. adults believe distracted walking is a serious issue, with 74% saying “other people” are usually or always walking distracted, while only 29% say the same of themselves.  Self-realization is a tough pill to swallow.

• No less than three states have tried to ban using a mobile device while walking, and some towns have actually enacted laws against it in response to spikes in related injuries or fatalities.

• In 1995 children ages 5-9 were the highest risk group for being struck by a vehicle while walking. That’s unnecessarily shifted significantly over the past 20+ years to the high-risk group now being teenagers – pairing up with the huge increase in teen phone use.


Phones & Stairs:  
This combo rates right up there with the unholiest of unholies.  According to 4 out of 5 safety professionals (really – not me), and 5 out of 5 claims managers there’s a special place in safety-hell for those that choose to stroll on the stairs with one hand in their pocket, and the other one holding up a phone.  Trust me, that’ll leave a mark if you trip and can’t grab anything to stop the fall aside from your face.  While in a previous role, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of reviewing far too many security camera videos of this exact instance where real people were seriously hurt, and the business impacted. 

So, what’s the fix? 


Step 1:  Head up, phone down!  Pull your head out – err… UP from the phone when moving or completing activities.

Step 2:  If you find yourself getting pinged for right-here-right-now mini-screen responses, stop walking and get yourself out of any pedestrian, shopping cart, or vehicle traffic before swiping right, “hearting” a post, or taking that call from your boss.

Step 3:  If you’re in a hallway and have super critical mobile banking that just can’t wait – at least stop and get over next to a wall, out of any doorways.  Just watch out for any other phone zombies or traffic shuffling through.  Duck inside an unused space if possible.

 Step 4:  Challenge.  In all sincerity, this one’s a real-life struggle for all of us.  Challenge yourself to set the bar for “Head up, phone down”, or get next level on it and help someone else when they’ve fallen prey to their phone and don’t even realize it.

Stay Smart and Stay Safe!
Jeremy Train
Corp. HSE Director, PK Companies