“Delayed intelligence” is a natural thought process following an accident or unpleasant event that can be explained by your level of thought awareness. Before the incident occurred, you likely were operating in “automatic.” Your level of thought awareness or attention to details while doing the task was low to numb, and you probably were operating out of habit. Immediately following the incident, your awareness level was elevated, and you were very attentive to your surroundings and the events that were occurring.
The greater number of accidents that occur can be attributed to human error. OSHA states that “80% to 95% of all accidents occurring in industry are related to human error.” Human error is that momentary lapse of thought that brings you to a critical point, and the accident occurs. When you let your thoughts drift, especially while engaged in potentially hazardous activities, accidents are waiting to happen.
Can accidents be prevented? Yes, there is a way to reduce the risk of human error and thereby prevent accidents. It involves a willingness to stay attentive to situations and the environment. There are three levels of thought management that can provide a “cognitive roadmap,” or a type of barometer, to help gauge where you are with your thoughts and level of attentiveness.
Automatic is the lowest level of thought management. When in automatic, you’re operating out of habit. In automatic, you continue to take actions without actively thinking about what is going on or what might happen. You make the assumption that you are in a safe place, making other thoughts unnecessary.
Common experiences, such as driving a vehicle, take place without constant active thought. You likely drive everyday, and without much variance. Can you remember driving along and missing a turn, or passing a common landmark and not remembering that you passed it? This is an example of being in automatic. Because a lack of readiness to respond exists when in automatic, the risk is much higher for a human error or accident to occur.
Distractions tend to create opportunities for automatic thinking and behaviors. Simply stated, when you’re distracted your head and hands are not in the same place. You’re still able to continue with the task, but your mind is on the distraction. Again, this is the perfect time and place for a human error to occur.
Focused is the next level of awareness. It’s the active thinking level. While focused you’re fully conscious of what’s happening and are attentive to situations and events. When focused, you’re actively thinking and your state of readiness prepares you to deal with challenges that need to be addressed.
At the focused awareness level, your mind has you ready for the commonly described “fight or flight” action step. Taking control at this point involves active thinking. Through controlled focusing, you are able to pay attention to challenges or situations. You’re aware of the events, and can start to manage them to the best of your abilities. Your awareness level is high, and your attention is directed. You’re in tune with what you are doing. Your actions are directed to managing the situation or event and achieving a productive outcome.
Options is the third, and highest level of thought awareness. Creativity, a standard at this level, contributes greatly to the problem-solving effort. Problem solving best occurs when you’re focused and able to bring options into play. The opportunity for new information and ideas emerge, diminishing human errors by lowering their risk of occurrence. Accidents and injuries decline and productivity increases. Directed, creative ideas become major contributors once options enter into the thought process.
Accident prevention starts with your thinking. Take time to know and understand these three levels of thought awareness. Be able to assess where your thoughts are and work to put yourself in the focused position before starting any hazardous task.
Human error could virtually be eliminated if everyone consistently practiced this process: Before starting a task, raise your awareness level to focused, maintain active thinking, and keep your head and hands in the same place until the task is complete.
About the Author: Michael S. Haro, Ph.D., is President and Founder of the Self Coaching Center, which provides behavior safety training and self-coaching skills aimed at reducing human errors. For information, visit www.selfcoachingcenter.com.