As reliance on mobile devices grows, some special safety concerns arise with their use in the electrical work environment. Two stand out: inattention to surroundings and blind reliance on calculation apps. If devices are increasingly valued for their communication and electrical app powers, job-site restrictions on their use could ease, possibly resulting in more instances of potentially dangerous divided attention.

“Things are constantly changing on a typical job site, so I’ve trained myself to get off to the side and out of the main work area when I’m using my smartphone,” says devoted app user, Brandon Birdsell, an electrician with Bosley Electrical Co., Sacramento, Calif.

Electrical calculation apps may be handy, but exercising caution with how and when they’re used is important, says Joseph Wolfe, a senior electrician Northern Virginia Community College Medical Campus in Springfield, Va.

“If I’m testing an electric motor live, I won’t be consulting an app,” he says. “There’s almost no circumstances where that information needs to be crunched while you’re doing the work.”

That number crunching is much easier with apps, but that in itself poses a safety concern. Namely, greater reliance on calculation apps that may not account for special circumstances and their availability to underqualified or less-seasoned workers who may not know the math behind the answers.

“An app may not factor in the need to consult the Code book if you’re dealing with different temperature differentials in calculating wire ampacity,” Birdsell says. “If you’re not trained to understand those things, an app can cause you to mess something up.”

App accuracy also can be a concern, which argues for using apps initially as a verification tool. Marty Riesberg, director of curriculum development for the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee, Upper Marlboro, Md., says apps have to be used with some caution and can’t substitute for thorough training and understanding of electrical concepts.

“It’s important that these apps come from a reputable source,” he says. “I’m not sure you pull them off Google Play or the Apple store without verifying the source of the information.”