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Annals of risk management: unsafe walking
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Annals of risk management: unsafe walking

Walking is generally considered a healthy activity; we are encouraged to walk 10,000 strides every day. But if we use our cell phones while walking, we are no longer engaging in a healthy activity: with unsafe walking, we are at risk for injury – even death.

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association has published a 74 page document entitled “Everyone Walks: Understanding and Addressing Pedestrian Safety.” While much of the document focuses on the risks of distracted drivers running into pedestrians, the walkers themselves are often guilty of what might be called unsafe walking practices. And it should hardly surprise you that the main generator of risk in walking is the ubiquitous cell phone.

Walking and talking/texting changes the way we walk and the way we focus on our environment. When handling a cell phone, we walk slower, especially when texting, and we are unable to follow a straight line. Our heads are down, our necks immobile and our arms are locked at the side. Arm swing, a delightful aspect of walking, comes to a complete halt. We could go so far as to say that walking and cell phoning is hardly walking at all.

There is a name for this new hazard: Petextrian, defined in the Urban Dictionary as “one who texts while walking, usually unaware of their surroundings.”

While the data is by no means complete, thousands of people have injured while engaging in distracted walking. People on their cell phones have even wandered into traffic and been killed.

Is this Workers Comp?

In the context of this particular column the question inevitably becomes: are injuries and deaths while walking and texting compensable under workers comp? I’m glad you asked.

These injuries may indeed be compensable: if the walker is engaged in work-related texting or talking (easily verifiable through cell phone data) and if the employer has not issued (yet another?) policy prohibiting texting/talking while walking, the injuries could indeed fall under workers comp. The savvy (and in this case, OCD) employer might develop a policy prohibiting the use of cell phones while walking, but realistically, this might only give rise to ridicule.

The cell phone has invaded every aspect of our waking lives: from driving (a formidable hazard to ourselves and others) to walking (putting mostly ourselves and other pedestrians at risk), to sitting (not much risk at all). I suggest that when the need for a text arises, we step aside, lean against an available building, parking meter or tree, and type our message. Let’s reserve walking for the glorious, arm-swinging, exuberant breathing exercise that it is surely meant to be.

Jon Coppelman
Senior Workers’ Comp Consultant
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