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Don’t Attract Fatal Distractions, 
Ensuring Worker Safety 

By Carl Potter, CSP, CMC and Deb Potter, PhD

Workplace injuries cost over $50 billion annually, according to the National Safety Council, so they’re a major drain on profits across industries. On the human level, when co-workers, family or members of our community are hurt or killed at work, the loss can be devastating.

Accident investigations usually reveal that injuries occur when something or someone distracts a worker on the job. He or she then hurries, takes a shortcut or decides not to follow safe work procedures, often resulting in significant personal injury as well as destruction of equipment and property.

On the bright side, you can eliminate most workplace injuries from your company. Managers and supervisors have a significant impact on worker safety and have a moral and legal obligation to provide a safe workplace. By identifying employee distractions and knowing what you can do, you can help workers avoid the devastation of an injury or fatality in your workplace. Consider these five fatal distractions and how to avoid them.

  1. The Distraction of Production: Employees face a tough dilemma when they feel pressured to complete work but don’t feel as if they have enough time. Often, they’ll take shortcuts so they can finish their assigned tasks in time, and these shortcuts are fertile ground for accidents. To alleviate this distraction, consider the following:

    • If your employees complain that they cannot get the work done in the time allowed, stop the job and listen to their concerns. You may need to allow more time or add more resources to the job.

    • Collaborate with your employees to come up with plans that allow them to get the work done safely.

  2. The Distraction of Time: The distraction of time occurs when the clock determines workers’ decisions about whether to do a job safely or to complete it by a deadline. Some companies have policies that limit overtime pay. When these policies are inflexible and the production requirements are stringent, employees and supervisors feel bound to the clock. The tyranny of the timepiece also occurs when workers decide that they want to finish the work during a certain timeframe, perhaps because they do not want to work overtime or they have other work that they want to move on to. To alleviate this distraction, consider the following:

    • Ensure your employees know that no job is so important that they should take short-cuts in order to complete the work in a timely manner.

    • Talk to your employees frequently about how working safely actually saves time.

    • Discuss how much time an injury involves with investigations, lost work time and reports, not to mention the impact on worker morale.

  3. The Distraction of Management: Management can have a positive or negative impact on employee safety. When managers, supervisors and employees do not share common beliefs about the importance of safety, inconsistent communications result. Research shows that employees pay attention to whatever management pays attention to. If employees constantly hear about the need to reduce costs, increase production and improve quality while hearing little or nothing about safety, they will focus, like management, on everything except safety. To alleviate this distraction, consider the following:

    • Be a positive influence by spending time every week with workers to show your interest in them.

    • Ask your workers specific questions about their concerns for safety and health in the workplace.

  4. The Distraction of Money: Workers believe that the budget drives all corporate decisions. They may be right. If employees receive less training than they should have, and aging equipment is not maintained or replaced because budgets are tight, the number of recordable injuries goes up. To alleviate this distraction, consider the following:

    • Review your budget to make sure you have funding for unexpected issues that relate to employee safety.

    • Give workers, even in the lowest levels of your organization, the authority to tap into these funds when necessary.

  5. The Distraction of Personal Issues: Personal matters present huge distractions to employees. Employees often bring to work their off-the-job stress from family issues, financial concerns or other personal problems. Without realizing it, stressed and preoccupied employees can put themselves and others at risk of workplace injuries. You may find it difficult to recognize when an employee is distracted by such matters, so take time to get to know all of the workers around you and pay attention to individual responses, reactions and attitudes. To alleviate this distraction, also consider the following:

    • When you suspect that employees are distracted by personal issues, take them aside and discuss your observations.

    • If necessary, temporarily reassign a worried worker who performs work that requires concentration to remain safe.

    • Assure employees who are having personal crises that you have their best interests in mind and that your goal is to return them to normal duties as soon as possible, once the crisis has passed.

Think Safety for a Successful Future: As a manager or supervisor, you can have a tremendous influence on employee safety. You simply need to make a focused effort to include safety into every aspect of your role. By adopting and demonstrating a personal commitment to workers’ safety, communicating the importance of safety relative to production and quality, and recognizing when employees are distracted on the job, you can have a very positive impact on your organization’s safety performance.

Read other articles and learn more about Carl and Deb Potter.

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