Pulp and Paper Canada

Cell Phones

April 1, 2004  By Pulp & Paper Canada

I have seen a number of mills and other production facilities making greater use of cell phones. They are not (or not only) for when the personnel are off the plant site — they are mostly for staff while on site. Many of the staff need to be acce…

I have seen a number of mills and other production facilities making greater use of cell phones. They are not (or not only) for when the personnel are off the plant site — they are mostly for staff while on site. Many of the staff need to be accessible to both internal and external parties. Engineers and superintendents are rarely in their offices, as their job functions often require them to be out and around the mill. Although radios allow people to be reached within the mill — if you have a radio — they are no help for front office types who have no access to the radios or for external callers.

When an engineer places a call to a supplier, consultant or whomever, he will often need to get a call back — whether he has to leave a message or the recipient needs to research a question. However, it can be difficult to wait in your office for a return call when you have a crisis in the mill or a project demanding your attention. This can then lead to a round of ‘telephone tag’ in which each person alternately leaves messages, trying to reach the other. Sometimes there is no substitute for a live conversation. This is where a cell phone for the engineer in the mill comes in handy — he can be out of the office, but still available by phone. In addition, it can greatly increase a worker’s efficiency to be able to stand in front of a tank or out at a pond while talking to the relevant vendor’s technical expert. These features take the cell phone from the realm of handy convenience to useful tool.


Some cell phones also come with additional features. Almost all come with some form of address book and PIM (Personal Information Manager). However, some also have special features, such as integrated cameras, Blue Tooth, web browsing, text messaging, email and others. Some of these are of limited usefulness in an industrial environment, but the camera feature can be handy to send photos to a remote person.

What about coverage — can you make a call from the mill, or will the signal get dropped? This is a case-by-case situation, as some mills will have no problem and others will have no coverage. There may also be ‘dead areas’ within the mill, but if you do have coverage, it will be surprisingly complete. The hardware has greatly improved and dramatically decreased in price. A cell phone is a tiny item now and is capable of discriminating between background noise and voice with tremendous accuracy.

Some common questions about the use of cell phones:

1. Do they cause brain cancer or other disease?

Definitely maybe! There have been close to 100 studies and they have resulted in conflicting or inconclusive results. However, radiation from a cell phone definitely affects and changes human proteins, with unknown consequences. Recommendations by Consumers Reports include using a headset when possible, limiting use by children and teens (not normally a problem in the mill!) and using it only when necessary.

2. Are they a hazard to use when driving?

See that car swerving down the road — I bet the driver is on his cell phone! A study at the University of Utah showed that even using hands-free phones results in “inattention blindness”. Another study, by the California Highway Patrol, showed that cell phone use was the leading cause of accidents in those caused by inattention. It is generally recommended that you do not make or take calls in any situation requiring close attention, such as heavy traffic or similar situation. Many companies prohibit their employees from conducting business on the cell phone while driving.

3. What are the guidelines for proper use when carrying a cell phone?

Ensure you use it in a safe manner — do not take a call when you might compromise your or another’s safety. They can be an ignition source, so do not use it while refueling. Do not use it in heavy traffic or in a situation requiring full attention, even with an earpiece. Of course, use good manners when using the cell phone: Do not use your phone where you will inconvenience others, such as concerts, restaurants or theatres. And my personal pet peeve: a cell phone is a great tool, but it is a lousy source of music. Please do not inflict your musical favourites, reproduced in cell phone ring tones, on all around you. Please use the default ringer — sure it is boring, but it is much less annoying.

Dan Davies is the application manager at Degussa Canada in bleaching & water chemicals. He can be reached at dan.davies@degussa.com.

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