Distractions are everywhere in our world. We can be distracted while driving, while working, or while doing any number of routine tasks. In the work place, incident investigations reveal that tens of thousands of injuries each year occur when people are not focused on the task at hand.
Most everyone recognizes the dangers associated with being distracted while driving a motor vehicle. Distracted driving is a leading contributor to automobile crashes. For example, here are just a few statistics from an organization dedicated to stopping texting and driving injuries and deaths:
- Every year, about 421,000 people are injured in crashes that have involved a driver who was distracted in some way.
- Each year, over 330,000 accidents caused by texting while driving lead to severe injuries. This means that over 78% of all distracted drivers are distracted because they have been texting while driving.
- 1 out of 4 car accidents in the US are caused by texting while driving.
- Texting and driving is 6 times more likely to get you in an accident than drunk driving.
- It takes an average of three seconds after a driver’s mind is taken off the road for any road accident to occur.
- Reading a text message while driving distracts a driver for a minimum of five seconds each time.
- The chances of a crash are increased by 23 times when you are texting.
Error Rate and Distraction
A recent Michigan State University study provides supporting evidence that being distracted significantly increases human error (which can result in an accident).
Participants in this study were asked to perform a series of tasks in order, such as identifying with a keystroke whether a letter was closer to the beginning or end of the alphabet. Of course, a certain number of errors were made even without interruptions.
Occasionally the participants were told to input two unrelated letters — which took about 3 seconds — before returning to their task. These slight interruptions led to participants making twice as many mistakes when they returned to their sequencing task.
In addition, there are a number of studies and/or exercises which prove that humans cannot consciously complete more than one task at a time. Indeed, one author has labeled the so-called skill of multi-tasking as “worse than a lie.” No matter how you look at it, being distracted (for any reason) significantly increases the risk of making a mistake and/or being injured.
Unfortunately, we are not only distracted by something in our environment, but simply by the way our minds operate!
Victor has over 20 years experience in the warehouse. You have a few years of experience and were just hired a few weeks ago. Today, you are working as a team, unloading pallets of packaged materials that were delivered from the dock. As both of you approach the first pallet, Victor takes a position directly in front of the strapping that is straining under tension. You see that this puts him in the line of fire. Instinctively, you take a step back when Victor pulls a pair of snips from his pocket to cut the strapping…
Do you speak up? Do you stop him? Are you sure?
Perhaps you would say something. But a surprising number of people in this situation would stay silent. Their thought process would be something like, “Surely he must know how to perform this task safely. He’s done it thousands of times. I’m the rookie here. Who am I to question his experience and job knowledge?”
Peer pressure is a powerful social influence. Most of us are fearful of being considered an outcast if we are the dissenter, especially if we have less informal authority than other people in our natural work group.
You may think of peer pressure as overt statements from co-workers. “Look, this is the way things are done around here.” But this is not always the case. In the scenario above, Victor did not have to remind you about his seniority and experience. It was implied and understood.
It takes at least two people to have a conversation. For a conversation to be effective, each person needs to alternatively talk and listen. Unfortunately, some leaders are prone to lecturing, with very little listening. This ineffective communication style isn’t isolated to senior leaders who ascribe to the command-and-control approach to management. It can be seen at all levels of organizations.
The prevalent communication style of managers and supervisors is a barometer of the safety culture. Occasional, one-way safety conversations are telltale signs of a culture of compliance. Frequent, interactive safety conversations are indicative of a culture of commitment.
As indicated in a previous post, the motive for having a conversation significantly influences the safety culture. To recap:
- If the reason you have any safety conversation is to exert control, the approach will be to criticize and seek compliance through correction.
- If the reason you have any safety conversation is because you care, the approach will be to coach and seek commitment through collaboration.
One communication model1 suggests that an effective organizational conversation has four attributes: intimacy (building trust and listening), interactivity (promoting discussion), inclusion (collaborating on solutions), and intentionality (sharing a common purpose).
In this article, I introduce a guide for an effective safety conversation – one that starts with caring. This guide incorporates the four attributes of an effective conversation. It also stimulates a conversation that enables coaching and collaboration.
Five-Step Guide for a Safety ConversationTM
Family doctor visits usually have one of two purposes: either you are having a routine check-up to make sure that everything is okay with your health (preventive care) or you have an illness and your doctor wants to find the cause (diagnostic care). We can use health care as a metaphor to consider the approaches that we take when having a safety conversation.
A doctor who is diagnosing an illness or disease relies upon a series of questions and tests. If she suspects heart disease, for example, she may inquire about the patient’s smoking, eating, and exercise habits. She will also want to understand the patient’s family health history. These provide clues that may support her initial diagnosis, which can be confirmed with further testing.
Using this analogy, many supervisors and managers focus on providing diagnostic services when it comes to safety. After someone has an injury, they ask a series of diagnostic questions, aimed at determining why the injury occurred. What were the factors that may have contributed to the injury? Did they have a history of other injuries? Did they make choices that increased their risk of injury? Continue reading
“Raise your hand if you believe that you are pretty good at multitasking”.
When I present this challenge to a group, typically about half of the people in the room respond by lifting their arms in the air. Then we have a discussion about what multitasking is and why NO ONE has this “skill.” We also use a simple exercise that demonstrates what is really happening with our brains when we attempt to take on two cognitive tasks at the same time (more about this exercise later).
Dave Crenshaw has blogged and written extensively about multitasking. His premise is that this phenomenon simply does not exist. In fact, he calls it a myth.
If you are one of those persons who raised your hand, perhaps you are thinking, “I’ve been juggling many things for a long time and I think I’ve been pretty successful in doing so. What do you mean there is no such thing as multitasking?”
Is there an undiscussable topic that is preventing your team from working well together or is causing you to avoid working on the things that matter most? Then you may have an elephant in the room.
An elephant in the room is an obvious truth or condition that is being ignored or not addressed, or a risk nobody wants to discuss. Everyone knows these elephants exist – but we try to avoid them or refer to them obliquely. They are often discussed privately either before or after meetings. Our fear is that if we talk about these elephants, they will come to life and trample us. The problem is that unless and until we are free to identify and discuss these sensitive topics openly, they never go away.