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Avoiding the Risks of Distraction

You have a narrative in your head; everyone has one. It is the “things” you think about. Most of the time, the narrative wanders. When you must complete a task, your brain (physical mind resource) usually focuses on the sequence of events that the task requires. Other than that, the narrative is in its natural state - wandering without intent – jumping unfettered from one thought, one problem, and one image to another. Sometimes, you don’t have any sequence of grammatically connected words (a narrative) – you have images – you intentionally picture some person or event in your past or possibility in the future.

Cerebral activity can be experienced while you are sitting or moving. It is possible to control the direction, subject, and imagery purposefully. When the narrative and its associated images are purposeful, we call this thinking. Thinking can be associated with well-known tasks or activities or thinking may be the systematic application of logic and reasoning to an unknown – consciously trying to solve a problem that you want to solve.

What goes on in your head when you are not focusing the narrative or the completion of a task is a scrambled mess of pictures, words and phrases, and also blank spots where your mind is on down-time. To add more complexity to what goes on in your head, there are emotions attached to some words, images (pictures of people or events), subjects and feelings of sadness or pleasant feelings. Consciousness is composed of all this and more. If you are not consciously thinking about the solution to a problem, your mind (another word for what takes place in your brain) experiences a disorganized internal narrative.

From thoughtful reasoning to opportunistic imagery, an unmanaged sequence of mixed stuff takes place in your head. Most of the time our cognitive activity is not under control. It does not activate any action or muscular activity; it moves from subject to subject with disassociated images, talk inside your head, and feelings. When your brain is not doing anything purposefully nor unconsciously, you are in mindless state – nothing is happening upstairs. The issue created by a wandering mind is akin to doing your job on an assembly line and simultaneously thinking about the problem of funding your son’s higher education.

If you meditate to relax, you enter an unconscious state that eliminates thinking and movement. If your mind goes blank at work, you are placing yourself at risk. Jobs that require you to do the same things over and over again often hypnotize the performer. More commonly, workers become distracted by their thoughts and do not focus or attend to their work. People do not consciously get distracted; it happens unless they have a concrete, visible prompter – a checklist for instance.

A simple thing like a checklist will focus the mind (internal self-talk, imagery, feelings, and all internal processes) on the checklist items. Safety professionals call this mindfulness. Mindfulness is difficult to achieve without a concrete list to look-at, check and prompt critical job behaviors. The items on the checklist can be critical-to-quality behavior or critical-to-safety behavior; basically the checklist brings focus, sequence and awareness, to conscious behavioral control.

A behavioral observation checklist is a visible list of important safe behaviors; the list is going to be reviewed and counted as a measure for safe performance – prior to a near-miss or a recordable incident. Those who are best served by checklist are the employees themselves. They are the benefactors of the Behavior Based Safety Observation Checklist. The checklist is anonymous; it’s useful as a personal guide and as a personal injury prevention tool. The only time we have control over what is in our head is when we purposefully review or follow written material – like putting together something you ordered on line whose product description says it is “easy to assemble.” Thankfully, a safe behavior checklist is much easier to follow.