By Bob Lapidus, CSP (Retired), CSMS
Oftentimes the lack of concentration (or inattention) is noted as the cause for an occupational injury. The employee loses situational awareness, does something she or he shouldn’t do, and gets hurt.
There are steps we can take to maintain our concentration, to keep ourselves attentive to the work we are doing, such as taking breaks, changing our routines, and breaking down the work into smaller pieces. When we are able to get activities down to a point where we obtain successes more frequently, we feel better about what we are doing, and are more able to maintain our concentration.
What is truly scary is when we forget. In some cases, we have been doing the same work for years, yet in a moment we forget something critical to the work we are performing and in that moment, we slip, and get injured.
This forgetfulness gets worse as we age. Although everyone has a moment of forgetting something even in our twenties and thirties, each decade as we get older, our ability to hold on to what we are supposed to do actually diminishes.
Did you know that an aging workforce actually starts between 35 and 40 years of age? Think about it: Someone who came out of high school at the age of 18 and went right into the workforce has worked 20 years when they reach their late thirties. They may have done jobs with repetitive motion and heavy lifting causing them to begin having neck, shoulder, back, and knee problems.
People working jobs requiring intense strategizing and mental manipulations year after year can put themselves into situations where they either lose concentration or forget an important step they are supposed to take.
Non-routine tasks, those jobs we rarely do, provoke this problem because we haven’t done the work frequently. We need refresher training and/or review of the steps involved in the job we are about to do. We need to discuss the work prior to starting, and discuss with others the hazards that are integral to the non-routine task.
We live in a society (including our work places) where we are getting hit with so much information all the time that our minds get overloaded and we start to throw off things we don’t need at the moment. Yet, maybe we do need that information at the moment. If our minds have unloaded something, we might not have the information at our finger tips we need.
Lack of concentration and forgetfulness can be mitigated by doing the opposite:
- Pace yourself – Work for a short period of time, take a short break, go back to work. Over time, increase the length of time you work before taking a break. The break gives your mind the opportunity to re-set itself.
- Take your time – Don’t rush when doing anything. Diligently work on what you are doing, step by step, so you don’t lose concentration.
- Avoid distractions – Don’t go off on tangents. If you need to check something out and the information is not needed right now, write down what you need to find out and do that research when you are finished with the work you are currently doing.
- Keep yourself hydrated – Drink plenty of water throughout your work day. It helps you avoid losing your concentration, improve cognition, balance your mood and emotions, and maintain your memory function.
- Take physical breaks – If possible, get away from the task you are doing, take a short walk, even to the other side of the office or shop, or site. The exercise clears your mind and keeps your blood flowing throughout your body, including your brain, to enhance mental concentration.
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