If you’re in the field of occupational safety, you know how crucial it for employees to be focused on their jobs. That’s even more important when you’re managing workers in the construction industry, or those responsible for driving. Unfortunately, distractions in the workplace are the norm: a 2018 survey revealed 70% of workers admit to feeling distracted while on the job, with 16% saying they almost always feel distracted. This makes it difficult to promote safety in work zones.
What can employers do about this serious problem? The answer is to improve focus in work zones. In this article, we’ll explore what focus looks like, the importance of focus on work zones, how to improve focus in work zones, and tools and resources you can use to boost focus.
What Does Focus at Work Look Like?
To understand how to improve focus in work zones promotes safety, we first need to understand what focus looks like. Productivity expert Dan Silvestre defines staying focused as “doing one thing without being distracted in the process.”
For example, if you’re driving, it means that you’re only focused on that task. You’re only paying attention to the road and what’s on it, including other drivers, highway workers, and members of law enforcement agencies. What you’re not doing is texting or checking your phone’s apps for updates.
Being focused means that you’ve managed to eliminate workplace distractions. You’ve overcome the lure of your phone, apps, games, personal emails, to center your attention on where it needs to be. Sadly, focus at work is difficult to achieve, for the reasons outlined above. It’s so easy to look over at one’s phone while driving down the highway, so easy to take a moment on the construction site to check your text messages. Yet, these seemingly minor distractions have a significant negative impact.
The Importance of Focus in Work Zones
Focus isn’t just nice to have in a work zone – it’s a must. Distractions can actually cost people their lives. Texting and driving has become a major cause of death in the US; each day, nine people die and more than 1,000 people are injured due to people texting behind the wheel. On construction sites, the situation isn’t any better: workers can look down at their phones at the wrong moment, leading to injuries or fatalities from heavy machinery.
With those statistics in mind, it’s easy to see why focus is important in a work zone. Aside from safety (which we’ll discuss a bit later on), there are three reasons why it’s vital for workers to maintain focus in a work zone:
- Higher productivity
- Higher quality
- Cost savings
Increasing focus in work zones also boosts productivity. When employees aren’t on their phones, they’re getting more work done. Higher productivity also raises morale; employees feel better about themselves when they accomplish all of their tasks.
Moreover, when you improve your focus, you have higher-quality output. We’ll use the example of the construction industry. If a worker isn’t paying attention to an order, maybe because that person is checking his or her phone, that employee could make a mistake. Mistakes lower quality, so the building in question could be flawed, or worse – unsafe.
A third benefit of greater focus at work is cost savings. As mentioned in the previous paragraphs, a lack of focus leads to mistakes. Mistakes are costly. We’ll go back to the example of the construction industry; an error in a construction project could lead to fines from an inspector, unhappy clients, and damage to your reputation. No one can afford that.
When thinking about focus in work zones, it’s also vital to remember that contractor safety matters, too. Just because someone isn’t directly employed by your company doesn’t mean that their safety isn’t at risk in a work zone, or that they can’t put others’ safety at risk through their behaviors. Whatever steps you take to improve focus in work zones, make sure that they apply to contractors alike.
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How to Improve Focus in Work Zones
Now that the benefits of improving focus in work zones are clear, let’s talk about how you can actually create an environment that encourages greater focus.
There are four techniques you can implement to help employees concentrate better while they’re at work:
- Proactive safety policies
- Traffic control plans
- Variable speed limits
- Safety Awareness Week
Putting Proactive Safety Policies in Place
It starts with a proactive safety policy. A proactive safety policy is about taking your employees’ health and well being seriously. Putting a proactive safety plan in place is about not waiting around for injuries or fatalities to occur before taking action – it’s about anticipating threats to worker safety.
Here’s what a proactive safety policy looks like in action:
- Analyzing current safety practices and recent accidents
- Establishing a worker safety committee
- Identifying workplace hazards
- Developing a safety training and education program
- Putting accountability and compliance systems into place
To understand where your current safety practices fall short, you need to analyze them. Are you allowing employees to use mobile phones on the roadway or in traffic? Can employees use their phones at construction sites? Those are just two examples of how a loss of focus affects occupational safety.
In addition, look at recent accidents – why did they happen? What could have been done to prevent them? The goal is not to assign blame; rather, you want to figure out how you can improve safety (and thus increase focus). In many cases, a lack of focus is to blame, so understanding that trend shows you what you need to fix going forward.
Your next step is establishing a worker safety committee. A worker safety committee is a crucial part of a proactive safety plan (and to increase focus at the workplace). These are the people on the front lines – they understand the risks facing employees better than anyone else. Workers also understand the opportunities for distraction better than anyone else, so if you’re looking for experts on crafting policies that will reduce
A third step in creating a proactive safety plan is identifying workplace hazards. At a construction site, that might be equipment that isn’t properly maintained, or materials that aren’t secured as well as they could be. In the transportation industry, those risks might include unsafe driving conditions. However, identifying workplace hazards isn’t just about what’s going on around the workers – it’s about the things that are deflecting their attention from their jobs, with cellphones being a major culprit. It’s important to think about hazards broadly so you don’t miss anything.
Developing a safety training and education program also helps workers maintain their focus. It teaches them to be conscious of threats to their safety, including dangerous distractions such as texting at a construction site or using their phone while sitting in traffic. Additionally, safety training and education makes it official that your company won’t tolerate employees engaging in hazardous behaviors (like scrolling through their news feeds while driving).
For a proactive safety plan to work, there has to be an accountability or compliance mechanism in place. Employees and managers must feel like they play a role in maintaining a safe workplace, be that a construction site or a transportation fleet. When everyone is aware of their responsibilities, there’s a greater likelihood that people will adhere to the rules.
Traffic Control Plans
Other measures to increase focus will depend on what kind of workplace you have. For example, a construction site might benefit from a traffic control plan, in which temporary traffic control zones regulate or guide traffic. Creating a traffic control plan could involve the use of signs (the metal variety or the mechanized type with flashing lights) as well as arrows, portable barriers, and road markings. All of these methods demands workers pay attention when they’re driving, which boosts their focus.
Traffic control plans work best in confined areas, such as construction sites, because they give you a handle on what’s going on within your site. You couldn’t implement a traffic control plan on the open road unless you were a government agency or a law enforcement official.
Variable Speed Limits
As with traffic control plans, variable speed limits work best in confined areas. Variable speed limits refer to setting different speed limits in different areas.
Research has shown that variable speed limits reduce fatalities because they prompt people to pay closer attention to the traffic ahead of them. This type of focus aid works great in construction zones, where you can set speeds. However, if you’re a safety manager at a transportation company, other methods would work better to keep employees distraction-free while driving.
Safety Awareness Week
Something that all companies can do is to create a safety awareness week. A safety awareness week doesn’t mean that your workers are only aware of safety for a single work week; rather, it’s an important step to fostering an atmosphere of focused workers. Additionally, it’s an event in which management and staff alike participate, demonstrating the high value your organization places on safety and focus in the workplace.
A safety awareness week is what you choose to make of it. You have the freedom to decide what activities, presentations, or safety training should take place during this week. More to the point, you can tailor it for your company; if you’re in the construction industry, you would customize training to cover crucial topics such as safety around heavy equipment, while if you were in the transportation industry, you’d most likely want to discuss issues such as how to avoid distracted driving.
Tools and Resources for Improving Focus in Work Zones
To improve focus in work zones, there are two essential components: resources and tools. “Resources” refers to information or experts that can help you put a plan into place. “Tools” are the concrete items you’ll use to boost focus.
Resources to Improve Focus in Work Zones
There are two categories of experts who understand how to boost focus in workplaces:
- Safety professionals
- Mindfulness specialists
Safety professionals (also known as occupational health and safety professionals, or OSH professionals) advise, develop strategies, and lead workplace safety and health management to eliminate fatalities at work. Their work involves providing advice, support and analysis to help employers establish risk controls and management processes to make workplaces safer. Focus is an important part of a safe workplace, and OSH professionals understand that. They’ll help you develop and implement strategies to improve your employees’ concentration on the job.
Mindfulness specialists are professionals who study techniques to enhance mindfulness. The term “mindfulness” refers to the purposeful paying attention to what’s going on in the present moment. Mindfulness has become somewhat of a trend, and for good reason: we’re surrounded by distractions such as cell phones, so it’s vital that we stop and focus on what’s really important. Mindfulness specialists, many of whom are psychologists or psychiatrists, can help employees develop techniques to boost their concentration on the job site.
Tools to Improve Focus in Work Zones
Tools are equally important as resources. If you read up on improving focus or consult with specialists, but then don’t take any measures to put what you’ve learned in action, you’re not going to see an improvement in focus at your workplace. Instead, you’ll see current unsafe practices reign, and you might even have fatalities.
What tools work best to combat the plague of distraction especially that which has been brought about by cell phones? The answer lies in technology. Companies now have the power to protect their employees from distracted driving and from operating heavy machinery in work zones.
TRUCE Software allows you to prevent distracted driving or unsafe mobile device use on construction sites. It controls when workers can receive notifications from their apps to avoid accidents, injuries, or fatalities.
How does it work? The mobile app lets administrators set policies of which apps are permitted to push notifications and when. You can set policies based on zone, activity, employee, or group. There’s also a dashboard, so you can analyze the effect of the policies and adjust as necessary.
The best part is that the employees don’t have to do anything – settings go into effect automatically depending on where they are, what they’re doing, or their role. You now don’t have to worry about your employees not being focused on their jobs; TRUCE Software’s app assures you that there won’t be any more distractions due to cell phones.
Distractions are all around us today, but that doesn’t mean they have to destroy our focus. The right tools allow you to improve employee focus in any work zone, regardless of your industry.