Driving Safety Improvement Through Minimizing Distractions
By Emily Wood
From the constant bombardment of emails, meeting reminders and text messages, to the external noises from equipment, chatty co-workers and phones ringing, workplace distractions are all around us. Studies have shown that 99% of people report their workdays are interrupted by at least one distraction1. Personally, I would reason that no one is able to escape a full day without a single distraction. Pausing one task and responding to an email or having a conversation with colleagues is often seen as multitasking, but multitasking prevents one from giving their full attention to something else, which is the definition of a distraction. The need to multitask is often unavoidable, however it must be understood distractions can negatively impact employee productivity, and worse, lead to workplace accidents and incidents. With over 32% of workplace accidents caused by distracted employees2, no longer should we encourage multitasking to increase efficiency and productivity. We need to encourage employee focus on each individual task, to decrease the likelihood of errors and minimize safety risk.
Distractions, Multitasking and Preventable Accidents
As you sit and read this blog, chances are you will be distracted before you complete your reading. Every day, there is so much to accomplish, yet never enough time. So, we often try to make the most of each busy moment and focus on more than one task, but the truth is, when we multitask, we are not focused on any one thing. We may think we are completing multiple activities at the same time, but studies show we cannot divide our attention on more than one task, rather we quickly shift our focus from one activity to the next and back again3. Switching between activities results in an incomplete understanding of the tasks we are trying to accomplish and can result in workplace accidents that could have been easily prevented.
A 2020 study conducted by Screen Education4 highlighted this idea as it found 14% of respondents stated their smartphone distraction was responsible for at least one accident at their workplace. These accidents had serious consequences; 59% caused property damage and 50% caused injuries or death. Respondents who worked within an industrial setting saw even greater percentages, with 26% reporting the distraction of a smartphone led to a workplace accident. Most of the time, we can emerge unscathed after a distraction while completing a simple task, such as writing a report and having to answer a phone call. When we are distracted by a phone ringing, we are no longer focused solely on our report. We must begin to divide our attention and pay attention to multiple items simultaneously.
Consider your daily commute. Driving is an activity that requires significant attention and focus to successfully manage the risks of the road. The moment you receive a text message, answer the phone or start eating your breakfast while behind the wheel, is the moment you put yourself and the others on the road in danger. You are not multitasking; you are distracting yourself from the task at hand, driving. Less familiar, unexpected and more complex tasks require for increased focus to safely make it to the destination. If you drive distracted, attempting to multitask and end up in an accident, it isn’t an accident anymore, it was a distraction, within your control that acted as a precursor to the potentially avoidable accident.
Many industries require employees to spend part of their day on the busy roadways. One study found that individuals who were driving to or for work were more likely to be in a hurry to reach their destination and would use their cell phone more often than those who were not. A collision with no fatalities, on average, that involves employee distraction will cost an employer $72,4425.
Safely Managing Distractions
Distractions are everywhere and everyone must multitask daily, so it is important to limit the distractions within our control. Together, we can work to minimize preventable accidents and incidents by ensuring we and our employees have an environment where a focus on work can be maintained. Distractions from our work can cause us to lose focus forget about the hazards present. It is impossible to eliminate all distractions, but there are several tools we can use to manage distractions and promote safety awareness among our teams.
Some of these tools include:
· addressing distractions in trainings,
· designing work processes that address distractions and work to minimize the hazard potential of distractions,
· observing and working with employees to understand what is distracting them, and
· encouraging staff to turn off non-work notifications.
Workplace distractions lead to the need to multitask, and it is recognized that multitasking is normal and expected of us every single day. Distractions within an office can result in decreased productivity and reductions in revenue. With higher risk jobs, where employees can easily find themselves in life-threatening situations, a distraction of only a second can cause an injury or fatality. No matter the task, we and our employees will be safer if distractions and multitasking are minimized.