Put Your Junk In The Trunk – Emotional Distractions

In last week’s post on distractions, we talked about how important it is for crane operators to Keep Your Head In The Game, and how cell phones can impact operations. So what’s another area where distractions occur but it cannot be as easily seen as a cell phone in the hand? We are talking about the mind.  The internal battlefield over an operator’s thoughts… the argument you trunkjunksquarehad last night…worry about a friend or family member’s situation… the outcome of a medical test…job security…finances…and the list could go on and on.   In fact, mental and emotional distractions are probably the most easily dismissed type of distraction, but they can make a big difference in the effectiveness of an operator and the safety on the site.

In the words of one of our Crane Tech instructors, crane operators must “put your junk in the trunk” every day when they come to work.  They need to clear their heads of all the emotional distractions, figuratively taking the related thoughts in your brain and putting them in your vehicle until after your shift.  Mental distractions do not belong on the site or in the seat of the crane.

Let’s look at a scenario.  John is the best operator on the job. He made this lift yesterday, the day before, and the day before that. But today he seems off his game. It appears that everything is fine on the outside, but the way he is operating says there is something else going on outside of the crane. What do you do?

  • Do you ignore it and let him keep operating hoping no one gets hurt?
  • Do you check in with him and see if he insists that he keep working?
  • Do you ask him to tell you what is going on and ask him to push through?
  • Do you wait to see if he says something?
  • Do you take him out of the seat of the crane for an hour to two?
  • Do you assign someone else the lift?

While some of these options may seem a little out of the ordinary, once a concern has been recognized, the supervisor should approach the situation with a balance of managing risk and common sense to make the best decision for the safety of the site. Maybe the supervisor should step in and relieve John of his operating duties till John has the chance to clear his head—putting in a relief operator for a couple of hours or a day.  Once John is back to normal, he gets back in the seat of the crane and continues with his work. Maybe the supervisor gives John a couple of minutes to “put his junk in the trunk” and John is able to refocus on the lift at hand. Probably the only wrong answer is to ignore it and hope nothing happens.

pitchers-moundLet’s look at it from another perspective. In a baseball game when a pitcher is getting rocked by an opposing team or loses his edge the manager comes out and talks with him and, more often than not, the pitcher hands the ball to the manager and the reliever comes in.  It doesn’t mean the pitcher is a poor pitcher.  It means he lost his stuff or his head isn’t in the game. Sometimes managers want to believe in their players so much that they leave them in too long and the game is lost.

A crane crew supervisor may need to take the same approach with an operator because they have lost their edge.  Depending on how the situation is handled the operator can come back strong, once their head is clear,  or a greater hazard can be created by intimidating, chastising or embarrassing him in front of peers. Regardless, you certainly don’t want an environment where good operators fear for their job or a loss of pay because of external distractions that create safety concerns.

What do the standards say about this?

The only place mental distractions are eluded to is the ASME B30.5 Chapter 5 Qualifications for Operators, that requires an operator to pass a physical examination that meets the criteria: “No evidence of physical defects or emotional instability that could render a hazard to the operator or others…”

While an operator may have passed the exam and met the qualifications can they still be applied in John’s case of a temporary distraction? Crane Tech is happy not to have to be the judge on this one, but we would challenge that any professional operator with a true passion for safety and concern for others on the site should either step up and excuse themselves for a day or so, or mentally put the distraction aside until the work is finished.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and stories related to this topic. Do you have a catch phrase you use to describe clearing your head?  Comment or send us an email.

Remember Safety through Education is more than just our motto, it is our guiding principle—sign up today for our newsletter to receive notifications when a new educational topic is posted.

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