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Destructive Power of Distractions in the Workplace – Part 2

By Carl Potter, CSP

Last week, we looked at the what distractions are, why they are to be considered hazards, and must be controlled.  We also delved into how company issues can be a  distraction and some ideas on how to control this hazard.  This week, we’ll look at the distraction of technology.

Technology as a Distraction
Cell phones are a great tool when used properly; when used to talk or text while driving, they can be deadly.  The National Safety Council estimates than an accident related to this practice occurs every 24 seconds.  Like all hazards, if the hazard of texting or talking when operating a vehicle goes unrecognized the risk  cannot be mitigated.  When attempting to identify the hazards of distractions one must look first at the obvious distractions.  Improper use of cell phones and other technology is an obvious distraction.  For companies that have mobile workforces with in-truck terminals or on-board tablets or other devices that help make work more efficient, leaders and employees must take care to recognize the hazard of these potential distractions.   In the “old days” we concerned ourselves with the use of mobile radios and pagers and the potential for distraction; today, the distractions are similar and perhaps even more prolific.

Cell phones are both socially and industrially considered a hazard.  Public safety advertisements abound with messages about the results of talking or texting while driving.  It is emotionally difficult for a worker to not answer his or her cell phone when it rings.  We have been conditioned as a society to answer the phone so that we don’t make someone made.  Recently was talking to a safety trainer at one of my clients who said he told his daughter who just started driving to not use the phone when driving.  When she drove away from the house, he waited a few minutes and called her phone… she answered.  He asked her why she answered the phone and she said, “Cause you called, duh.”  He told her to put the phone down and come back home immediately.   When she got back home he sat her down and made another attempt to get through to her.  Was he successful?  Only time will tell.  But this trainer also deals with another technology that distracts adult works, computers.

Many service and delivery drivers have computers mounted in their trucks now to provide work orders, mapping and communications.  Like a cell phone, a computer in the cab of a vehicle can be hard to ignore when emails are coming in or changes to a job order.  Many of the companies are dealing with this by installing jamming devices or other controls that prevent any technology from being used in a moving vehicle.  One company I work with experienced a fatality when a worker rolled a line truck because of distractions related to using an in-truck terminal while driving.  Creating an expectation of not using technology while driving is important yet difficult to reinforce, and depending upon the exposure, a mechanical control may indeed save live.

Public motor vehicle use is not the only time technology can be a distraction.  A worker in a high voltage substation was injured while on a cell phone and operating a switch.  A forklift driver texting on a cell phone ran into equipment, causing damage to company y property as well as a minor injury to herself.  The bottom line is:  distraction can lead to destruction.

Control the Hazard of Technology Distractions

With the proliferation of technology and the social expectation of instantaneous connection, what can a leader do?  The easy answer to that question is:  lead!  The following ideas can help you and the workers in your organization control the hazard of technology distraction.

1. First of all, lead by example.  Do not use your cell phone while driving for texts or calls.  This is difficult, and I know you are thinking you’ll never have time to get everything done in your day if you do not use your cell phone.  The truth is, you’ll never be able to regain the time lost if you have an accident, injure yourself, or cause a fatality because of distracted driving.
2. Talk about the distraction of technology with your work team.  What technology are they tempted to use while driving or working?  Let them talk about the potential distractors.  This is the first step: recognizing the hazard.
3. Help worker learn to take the next step:  control the hazard.  Brainstorm ways that you can all avoid being distracted by the technology.  No doubt some of them think that you or their boss expects them to answer whenever the phone rings – after all, it might be you trying to reach them.  Come to a common understanding that you expect them to pull over before answering the phone and that you are willing to wait for a return call.
4. Help workers recognize that hands-free calling and texting have been proven to be just as distracting as hands-on use of cell phones.  The National Safety Council has an interesting white paper on the distracted brain that you may find interesting.

The Final Word on Technology Distractions

The bottom line is this:  engage frequently in conversations with workers to ensure they know your expectations about controlling the hazard of technology distractions.  Work with them to ensure they know how to overcome these distractions with their own behavior or other necessary controls.  No phone call, text, electronic work order, incoming email, or voice mail is so important that anyone should risk their own life or the life of others around them.

Next Week: Part 3, The Destructive Power of Distractions in the Workplace


One Response to Destructive Power of Distractions in the Workplace – Part 2

  • j.w. Adams says:

    just read part one and two i am going to use these in the SAFETY meetings at work,we have 3 every month. these are the best written SAFETY topics i have seen yet!

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