A recent US study reported that 70% of workers feel distracted on the job and 16% almost always feel unfocused – alarming statistics. 
When we are distracted at work our attention becomes divided and we no longer perform at our best. As well as inhibiting productivity, distraction can lead to poor decision-making and prevent us from spotting workplace hazards – creating considerable safety issues, especially in high-risk industries like construction.
Here are three common distractions to watch out for in your workplace.
Technology: information overload
Recent research on the role of technology in workplace distraction reports:
  • One third (32%) of Australians admit to regular distraction via smartphones and social media at work; 
  • Over half (52%) check their phone or social feeds up to 10 times a day; 
  • And a quarter of the workforce (24%) spends between 31-90 minutes on their smartphone or social media during work hours.
Whilst technology has the ability to boost productivity in our industry, the opposite can also be true. Whether we are in meetings or with customers, smartphones and other mobile technology put the perpetual temptation of email; social media; online shopping; videos; games; news feeds and more, right in the palm of our hands.
As our appetite for information and “connectivity” grows, our ability to stay focused suffers. 
To minimise this risk:
  • Encourage staff to silence social media and app alerts.
  • Provide secure lockers for mobile phones and devices.
  • Allocate sanctioned times for checking news and social media on work devices.
  • Create a workplace challenge to reduce mobile device screen time, at home and at work.
  • For particularly high-risk workplaces it may be necessary to ban the use of mobile technology entirely – or request phones be switched off or put on “flight mode. (According to one industry report, 43% of employees already switch their phones off during work hours to avoid distraction and disruption.)
If the use of mobile technology or social media is problematic for your business, it’s also important to address the cause. Are your employees are bored, disengaged or under stimulated? Why are they turning to technology?
Most of us are familiar with the “Don’t Drive Tired” road safety campaigns. Although “Don’t Work Tired” isn’t quite as catchy, the same principle applies when we clock on at work.
Safe Work Australia defines fatigue as “mental and/or physical exhaustion that reduces your ability to perform your work safely and effectively”. Working when fatigued can affect both your safety and productivity. It reduces awareness, alertness and reaction times, impairs our memory and ability to retain important information. 
To prevent fatigue and help your workforce stay alert at work:
  • Educate your workforce on preventing fatigue and spotting early warning signs;
  • Empower staff to stop work if fatigue sets in;
  • Allow adequate breaks and rest time when performing prolonged physical tasks;
  • Communicate the importance of both quantity and quality of sleep;
  • Manage staff travel appropriately, allowing adequate recovery when crossing time zones; and
  • Consider flexible working to reduce the burden of long commutes.

In a recent interview, Naomi Kemp – Safety Institute of Australia Deputy Chair – stressed the need to remain alert and vigilant at work. “We all expect to come home from work safe at the end of the day, but it’s important that we’re not complacent … because we all know things can change.”
No matter how much experience we have in our job, the familiarity we feel can never remove the risks and hazards associated with performing it. In construction many tasks can quickly become repetitive, causing our minds to wander. And when our minds wander, we allow autopilot to kick in, letting us continue to perform these tasks without much conscious thought. 
To prevent complacency: 
  • Avoid repetition: create variety in the tasks performed whenever possible
  • Encourage people to regularly pause and observe their surroundings
  • Annual safety inductions and frequent safety reminders that engage the senses can also help to keep people focused.
Only an informed workforce can make informed choices. So however you choose to manage these and other distractions in your workplace, remember to communicate the potential costs and hazards of distraction, and allow your workforce to make good decisions.
What are the biggest distractions affecting your workforce? How do you help people stay focused and alert at work? Please share your thoughts and feedback via LinkedIn.

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