Some workplace distractions and interruptions are unavoidable, but others if not properly controlled or regulated could lead to injuries, lost productivity, and a decrease in worker morale.
Work interruptions are a distraction that can result in work errors or accidents. Before addressing or responding to another person, workers should shut down or disengage any work tool, equipment, or processes. Job training should include instructions not to interrupt others during a critical job phase or process. Instruction manuals and procedural guidebooks should be kept on site to answer frequently asked questions and thereby eliminate the need to interrupt or distract other workers.
External noise from tools, mobile equipment, and processes can be distracting in industrial and construction work environments. In work situations where loud or constant noise is unavoidable, hearing protection devices can eliminate or decrease unwanted and distracting noise. In other work environments even not-so-loud sounds can be a distracting annoyance. Constantly ringing phones, conversations, and loud faxes, copiers, and printers can distract workers from their job tasks or, depending on the level or duration of the noise, can contribute to workplace stress.
Electronic devices such as cell phones, and music players such as Ipods can be the source of serious distractions in some work environments. Check with your supervisor to find out if these electronics are allowed where you work. If these devices are approved in your workplace, as a courtesy to your co-workers, make sure you keep your cell phone on a low volume or silent when you work. To maximize work safety and performance, turn email notifications off and disable instant messaging. Don’t answer the phone or emails when you’re in the middle of a task – let it ring to voicemail then check messages later, preferably on your break time.
In some work environments wearing a headset with low volume music can be relaxing to workers and help them to safely focus on their work. However, wearing headphones on a construction or industrial site can be dangerous if it prevents workers from hearing warning signals, mobile equipment backup alarms, and safety instructions. Walking around while talking on the phone or wearing a headset distracts your attention from safety and could result in a slip or fall or cause you to run into or be struck by something or someone.
Workplace distractions and interruptions are common, but training can help you remember to keep your mind on the task at hand. Speak up about repeated and/or unsafe distractions and think and take responsibility for not interrupting or distracting others.
If you want to create safety policies to handle workplace distractions, It’s best to have a committee to get several ideas and be able to address pros and cons. The committee should consist of several employees that are a part of the specific workplace and at least one supervisor. A good rule of thumb is getting input from your employees that are on the “front line” and have first hand experience in the workplace. By giving the employees input on how rules are created, it will make them more accountable for their own safety by having ownership, buy-in, and opportunities to follow the rules that are set out.
When creating a set of policies, rules, or procedures, Keep it as simple as you can. One of the things that employers need to consider is how it will affect your company’s leadership. Will your supervisors or managers be able to follow and enforce these rules?
To have effective safety policies they will need to address the 4 “W’s” – What, Where, Who, and When:
- What – what is being prohibited, whether actions or devices.
- Where – What location is the action being prohibited.
- Who – What person(s) are prohibited certain actions or devices.
- When – When is the action or device prohibited and what, if any are the exceptions.