Why mobile phones are not permitted in laboratories?

Scientist talking on phone in laboratory
Scientist talking on phone in laboratory
Scientist talking on mobile phone in laboratory

Mobile phones today have become an essential necessity. Initially they offered convenience of communicating without dependence on fixed landlines. However, with passage of time their utility has far exceeded their cost. It is so much convenient nowadays to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world, make airline or railway reservations, get directions on locations, order supplies or carry out several other tasks through the unending range of available apps.

There is no doubt that mobile phones have made life easy for all of us and from the comfort of your home or office you can do numerous transactions without the need to step out or stand in long queues. However, restrictions are in place on use of mobiles in certain conditions and areas such as while driving, in laboratories, manufacturing areas and in defence establishments for obvious reasons.

Laboratories present typical hazards to all workers due to exposure to flammable liquids, poisonous chemicals, corrosive acids, explosive materials and toxic reagents. Several references have been published on prevention of accidents due to exposure to such substances but not much is available on potential risks on use of mobile phones in laboratories.The current article puts across some reasons in support of restrictions on use of mobile phones in laboratories.

Reasons for Restrictions

Distraction to self and others

Laboratory operations demand your undivided attention. You have to concentrate fully when you are doing calculations, making dilutions, setting up instrumental operating conditions or handling hazardous materials. Slightest distraction can lead to communication of wrong results or accidental mishaps. Mobile conversation, viewing of videos, playing of music or taking selfies in laboratories can draw attention away from the task in hand and lead to disastrous consequences.

Risk of Contamination

Contamination from laboratory materials is a significant contributor to errors in results in addition to the potential health risks. Imagine a situation that you receive a call on your mobile and you pick up the mobile without taking off your gloves which could be contaminated. The contaminated mobile phone is a risk for yourself and to all those who may handle it once you take it out of the laboratory. The mobile phone can also be a potential carrier of harmful bacteria and can result in contamination in sterile zones in microbiological laboratories

Disturbance due to mobile signals

Modern laboratory instruments are operated by electronic signal commands. In cases where the frequencies of signals correspond to the mobile phase electromagnetic signal there can be interference with instrument signals and this can lead to distortions so mobiles should not be used in the vicinity of such instruments.

Dangers of fire or explosions

Till date there are no recorded cases of laboratory fires resulting from electrical sparks from mobiles. The mobile battery has a low voltage and is not capable of igniting combustible vapours. However, keep in mind that the laboratory can use highly flammable solvents with low flashpoints so you should avoid use of mobile phones in the vicinity of such vapours. From time to time you may have come across cases of mobile phones getting ignited and damaged due to spontaneous explosion of batteries. Such accidents can prove disastrous in laboratories due to presence of hazardous and flammable materials.

Security of laboratory data

Laboratories engaged in critical research projects lay down strict restrictions on mobile use. This is necessary as the camera feature can be used to take pictures of sensitive documents or facilities and convey them to outside interested parties.

In the light of above mentioned reasons it needs to be appreciated as to why laboratories lay down restrictions on use of mobile phones. Laboratories generally provide lockers for safe custody of mobile phones along with other valuables for visitors or staff. Such restrictions are laid down for safety of personnel and high efficiency of laboratory operations. It is therefore essential that you should willingly abide by the regulations on use of mobiles which are laid down by the laboratory administration.

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  1. I am concerned by the use of personal cell phones in the workplace, specifically by employees in a plasma donor center. The risk of cross contamination they might cause in particular. I find no help with OSHA publications. Can you advise? I want to compile a report to be given at the workplace. Thank you.

    1. Hi, it is always a priority to provide a safe environment to workers and patients or visitors to a lab. Anything that interferes in this objective must be corrected. There is absolutely no doubt that Mobile phones can cause errors and lead to safety concerns and thus can be eliminated from the work environment.


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