Boeing limits workers’ use of smartphones, iPods

EVERETT — Work in a Boeing Co. plant? Take out your ear buds and stop texting.

The aerospace giant adopted new safety standards last month for operations, production and transportation work areas. The new rules prohibit listening to music with ear buds or headphones, limit use of handheld electronic devices such as smartphones and require safety glasses and reflective clothing.

The new standards are about safety, according to Boeing. But some shop floor workers say it has more to do with efficiency.

“You’ve got people just playing games on their phones or wasting time on Facebook,” said a worker at Boeing’s Everett plant near Paine Field. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to publicly discuss the policy.

Now, workers who want to use electronic devices have to go to marked safe zones away from assembly lines.

“A safety zone is an area where people still need to be aware, but the standards don’t apply,” said Katie Zemtseff, a Boeing spokeswoman. “So, people can take off their glasses, talk on the phone and listen to music.”

The company started testing the new standards at 25 sites, including Boeing’s 777 line in Everett, at the beginning of the year.

Previously, safety requirements varied by site, she said.

Once upon a time, Boeing actually issued headphones with built-in AM-FM radios at some sites.

Workers can still listen to music on radios, just not with headphones.

The change wasn’t prompted by a rise in accidents. “We’re just always looking to increase our safety,” Zemtseff said.

“There’s more ability to be distracted when everybody has a cellphone,” she said.

Walking and texting around an assembly line, for example, might have tragic and expensive consequences.

But so can walking with your hands in your pockets, said Mark Graban, a vice-president at KaiNexus, an Austin, Texas-based software firm that works with companies to improve safety and increase productivity. If you trip with your hands in your pockets, you are less likely to catch yourself.

So both habits — walking while texting and walking with your hands in your pockets — are banned at Toyota’s plant in San Antonio, Texas, he said.

“Mobile devices are potential distractions from things like Facebook, but they’re also increasingly productivity enhancers,” Graban said.

It is a management issue, not a technology problem. Engaged, motivated employees will focus on safety and productivity, he said.

“If people are screwing around and wasting time, it’s not a smartphone issue. The question is, ‘Why are people screwing around and wasting time?’”

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

More in Herald Business Journal

Delta’s farewell tour for the Boeing 747 stops in Everett

It is the last domestic airline to retire the iconic plane. Boeing and Delta employees autographed it.

Sign of the future: Snohomish business aims to reshape industry

Manifest Signs owner thinks that smart signs is an unexplored and untapped part of his industry.

Boeing says Bombardier dumping puts 737 planes in jeopardy

“If you don’t level the playing field now, it will be too late.”

Snohomish County’s campaign to land the 797 takes off

Executive Dave Somers announced the formation of a task force to urge Boeing to build the plane here.

A decade after the recession, pain and fear linger

No matter how good things are now, it’s impossible to forget how the collapse affected people.

Panel: Motorcycle industry in deep trouble and needs help

They have failed to increase sales by making new riders out of women, minorities and millennials.

Costco rises as results display big-box retailer’s resiliency

Their model has worked in the face of heightened competition from online, brick-and-mortar peers.

Group sees ‘18 tax cuts across all incomes, biggest for rich

The nonpartisan group released its figures a day before the House is expected to approve the tax bill.

Twitter suspends white nationalists as it enforces new rules

The company emphasized that it takes into account many factors before making any enforcement decision.

Most Read