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Worker distraction a precursor to mishaps

The current pandemic has caused unprecedented changes to the way we are doing business. It involves a great deal more than split shifts, minimum manning and taking time to disinfect before doing anything else.

Our world today is a very stressful place and those stresses can be translated to the working environment. Supervisors need to take a closer look (not physically: we do have to keep social distance in mind) at the manner in which their workers are doing business. We need to really look at not only the task being done, but the status of our airmen as they are doing their job. More than ever, we must stay vigilant on issues like distraction and fatigue.

Our dedicated workers may not be working more hours, but they are working with minimum manning as they are split into shifts while still trying to meet mission needs. This may mean they are taking on more duties than before or potentially taking on new duties. It will take some effort on the supervisor’s part to ensure our workers maintain the necessary level of mental focus and attention to get the job done.

With the current situation, distraction is a major detriment to that necessary mental focus. When people are distracted, they are not paying attention and may fail to see hazards which can then lead to injuries. Constant stress can also cause fatigue which is always a factor in doing the job safely.  As a reminder, now is the time to really focus on near-misses which can be a predictor of potential problems due to stress, fatigue, or distraction.

Undoubtedly, the biggest distraction right now is the current pandemic. Everyone is feeling the stress of worrying about contracting this virus in addition to worrying about the exposure of family members involved in critical jobs such as healthcare, emergency response, grocers, bankers, etc., or elderly family members and their welfare. This type of mental distraction can cause workers to miss potential risks that lead to mishaps.

In some cases, your workers may feel the need to get the job done quickly. When workers become fixated on completing a job on time, they focus less on safety.  Now more than ever, workers need to be good wingmen. If one worker observes another working distracted, the first worker may need to get the other’s attention; make sure they are alright, and tell the other to remember where they’re at and remind them of the risks at hand.

Good managers and supervisors interact with their workers and should, hopefully, recognize differences and changes in their behavior. While many workers may not really think so, there are differences to the working environment right now. Workers may be new to the job or may have been brought over from other teams to complete a job with a higher priority. 

Communication can sometimes be fragmented in times of crisis. It is critical to assess and mitigate risk in the constantly changing operating environment in which we are now working and, as supervisors, it is important to really focus on, and remind everyone else about, the essential components of keeping people safe. 

Increase spot inspections on your people: look for signs of agitation, loss of focus, desire to speed through tasks, oversaturation due to mission needs vs minimum manning, and distraction as workers worry about contracting the virus or worrying about their families at home.  

Pay attention to near misses! Strive to understand what your workers are going through. After all, chances are that you feel the exact same way. Now, more than ever, is the time to be a good wingman. Watch out for your fellow Airmen. We can, and will, get through this pandemic together safely while getting the mission done.