♦♦♦     SAFETY CULTURE   &   SAFETY PERFORMANCE     ♦♦♦

In this series, I share with you my thoughts on Why Safety Is An Issue For Most Companies. One of the Things We Must Address If We Want To Improve Our Safety Performance is to ensure that our people understand the importance of FOCUS time and allow them to incorporate it into their daily work schedule.

Do Not Disturb - people at work

Have you ever tried putting up a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign at work? Or blocking out time in your electronic diary? What happened and should this practice be allowed?

Multi-tasking is often lauded and touted as a desirable, even necessary, trait for efficiency. However, it is a misunderstood concept and is, in fact, *not* an efficient way to get things done and can introduce unnecessary risks[2], eg. consider the risks of using a cell phone while driving, or a pilot being distracted whilst landing an aircraft.

Similarly, distractions and interruptions have a detrimental effect on the task at hand. Attention is diverted and thinking disrupted. The likelihood of a mistake being made once the person resumes the task increases three-fold[1], posing a very real safety hazard. Furthermore, the associated “resumption lag”[3] means it actually takes longer to complete the task, so productivity suffers.

Interruptions and distractions are a reality of our times. In an office environment, this can mean that work is taken home and hours spent “catching up”. (See “Kill the In Tray” [4]) In an environment or situation requiring a person to interact with equipment or machinery or controls, I’m sure you can see that the consequences can prove to be fatal.

We all have 24 hours each day, but successful people have a commitment to remain focused on the important stuff. They use their time efficiently and avoid interruption.

ACTION

  • Schedule just 30 minutes today, where you can appreciate uninterrupted time to focus on ONE important priority task and aim to finish that task. Close the door, put up a DO NOT DISTURB sign and take the phones off the hook. Beware of the email / busy trap, where you feel busy with lots of little urgent things, but you do not tackle the important stuff. (See “Waiting at the Doctors” [5]) At the end of the 30 minutes, check how much productive work you actually got done. During the following 30 minutes, operate normally and see how little you will get done, during the same time frame. Repeat this exercise a number of times, until you are convinced that productivity and success depend on focus, prioritisation and zero interruptions.
  • Now that you are convinced, it is time to create a schedule to get uninterrupted time in your day. Make it a fixed routine and ensure that people who take up your time are aware of your routine, including your boss. (See “Kill the In Tray” [4])
  • Take the above lesson and apply it to your safety critical tasks. Reduce the amount of interruptions and distractions and increase the focus on the task at hand to minimise the potential of mistakes – vessel entry, lifting, working at heights, shut-down -, start-up – and lock-out procedures, etc. including answering a cell phone.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

With grateful acknowledgement to Andrew Horton, whose post “Do Not Disturb”, inspired me to write this Safety Tip, with a focus on the safety risks.

REFERENCES

[1]   Andrew Horton “Do Not Disturb”

[2]   On the hidden perils of juggling too many jobs at once

[3]   Resumption Lag = “the time needed to ‘collect one’s thoughts’ and restart a task after an interruption is over.” [Erik M. Altmann, Task Interruption: Resumption Lag and the Role of Cues]

[4]   Jurgen Tietz “Taking Responsibility: Kill the In-Tray”   Click here to download.

[5]   Jurgen Tietz “Time and Priorities: Waiting at the Doctor”   Click here to download.

FEEDBACK

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Copyright: Jürgen Tietz
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