Incident Prevention Magazine

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Are You on Cruise Control?

Are You on Cruise Control?

Many utility companies are focusing on zero injuries and their efforts have been paying off, with fewer employees are getting hurt. This is attributed to an arsenal of things such as meaningful safety meetings, applying injury prevention theories, ergonomic tools, detailed job briefings and many other proactive safety actions. If you are lucky enough to work for such a company, you should be proud of yourself and your fellow employees and continue to strive for zero injuries.

Learn From Near Misses
However, you still may be having near misses. Near misses typically don’t involve conscious violations of safety rules. In near misses, no one gets injured, and no equipment gets damaged.

What may be of concern is that given a slightly different circumstance or something changed just a little bit, these misses would have been a direct hit – a fatality. In fact, many companies still report that over the past few years, they came close to having at least six different fatalities. This can’t be ignored. Think about it this way:
• Six families almost lost a loved one
• Children from six families growing up without their mom or dad
• Six wives losing their husbands or six husbands losing their wives
• Six sets of parents losing a child
• Six work groups that would have to deal with the loss of a co-worker

If you are fortunate enough to have a near miss process and employees who are willing to come forward to report things that have happened to them, be sure to learn from them. A near miss is a gift that can keep giving. For some it’s not easy to report what happened because it can be embarrassing. As a worker, don’t be too quick to judge these employees. You could have the same or similar thing happen to you on or off the job. Thank them for reporting it, since they may have saved a life.

Similarities – “Cruise Control”
You may find that an alarming similarity in some of these instances is that an employee didn’t recognize a particular hazard of the work that they are trained and qualified to overcome. In discussions they may even state something like: In my mind it was dead, or in my mind it was locked out, or in my mind I was belted in, etc.

This condition of not recognizing a hazard that they overcome every other day seems to be more apparent when multiple activities or tasks are taking place. The employee is going from one task to another and not recognizing the hazards. It’s often complacency that leads to not being on task. I call this condition being on “cruise control.” Think about this: If you are driving and you put the car on cruise control, you really don’t think about how fast you are going. You watch other traffic, road conditions and staying in the lane that you want, but you don’t have to push down or let up on the gas pedal. The part of your brain that controls your focus to operate the gas pedal just takes a break.

According to Daniel G. Amen, M.D., author of “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life,” these brain functions can be lulled by a number of things. Toxins such as alcohol, drugs, nicotine, too much caffeine and some medications can cause decreased blood flow to the brain. When this blood flow is decreased, the brain can’t work properly. Obviously avoiding intake of these types of things is an advantage to your brain function. Also repetitive activities can lead to being on cruise control. This condition can be deadly.

“I Can’t Believe I Did That”
To a certain extent, being on cruise control is what has happened to the employees who had these near misses. All of our conscious actions are the result of a brain function and an electronic impulse from the brain to do something – move a hand, step with a leg, turn, etc. The part of the brain that causes the employees to recognize a hazard was not active. The self-preservation system that is built into all of us didn’t work. These employees would never knowingly do what they did, if they were 100 percent alert.

It’s hard for some to believe that these employees did what they did and how lucky they were. Another important thing to understand is that everyone is subject to this condition from time to time. It’s not enough to say “keep your mind on task.” You have to make yourself keep your brain active. We must learn from these near misses.

Staying Off Cruise Control
To overcome this deadly condition of cruise control, taking micro brain breaks can increase blood flow. In other words, take a short break to oxygenate your brain by taking deep belly breaths using your diaphragm muscles; less than seven slow deep breaths in a minute. Typically you can stimulate your brain with just a few breaths in less than a minute.

When doing a task, focus on that task, do it the best you can and then review what you have just done, checking your work. Before starting the next task, stop, take a micro-breathing break to oxygenate your brain and consider all of the hazards of the task. Taking these micro breaks is not easy if you are not trained to do it or not used to doing it. It takes concentration, time, and dedication to be good at it. If you practice this it will become a positive habit. Throw in a couple of what ifs: What if this breaks? What if I change positions? What if I lose my grip? What is here that can hurt me?

Practice taking micro breathing breaks between some simple non-life threatening tasks at work or things like unloading groceries at home. Then apply it to more complicated tasks. Make this a part of your work and home life habits and you can avoid serious injury or death.

Having your car on cruise control is OK; letting your brain go on cruise control can be deadly.

About the Author: Kevin J. Severson, CUSA, is a Senior Safety Consultant at Alliant Energy.

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Monday, 27 January 2020

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