Approximately 13,000 Canadians die in work-related accidents annually (Bittle et al., 2018), while many more suffer injuries. In 2016 alone, Canadian workers' compensation boards processed over 240,000 lost-time workplace injury claims, with a number of provinces reporting year-over-year increases in workplace health and safety incidents (Tucker & Keefe, 2018). Distraction is a significant contributor to accidents, injuries, and fatalities in the workplace (Cohen et al., 2017). As a consequence, various industries are ramping up efforts to identify and eliminate sources of distraction from the work environment, but many underestimate the importance of worker-related factors, such as mind wandering.
Mind wandering involves engaging in off-task thoughts (e.g.,"What should I get for lunch?") and is an extremely common form of distraction (Smallwood & Schooler, 2015). Many people do not realize that mind wandering can significantly impact their work performance, productivity, and safety, however. For example, mind wandering is perceived as one of the least dangerous secondary activities to engage in while driving a vehicle (Fofanova & Vollrath, 2012). Yet, mind wandering is also cited as a leading contributor to road traffic crashes (McEvoy et al., 2006). Mind wandering can reduce one's ability to notice hazards (Namian et al., 2018) and cause absent minded errors in the workplace (Wallace & Chen, 2005). Despite this, mind wandering is rarely addressed in workplace procedures and training.
EXO Insights is currently exploring methods of using virtual reality to reduce workplace accidents linked to mind wandering. In an upcoming study, we will test whether it is possible to reduce mind wandering by safely exposing workers to its potential real-world consequences in a simulated work environment. This method could be used to impart the importance of being attentive while performing certain work-tasks, before anyone gets hurt. Our ultimate goal is to develop training programs and offer innovative strategies for reducing mind wandering and its impacts on performance, productivity, and safety in the workplace.
Bittle, S., Chen, A., & Hébert, J. (2018).Work-Related Deaths in Canada. Labour / Le Travail, 82(1), 159–187.https://doi.org/10.1353/llt.2018.0039
Cohen, J., LaRue,C., & Cohen, H. H. (2017). Cognitive Distraction & Workplace Safety.7.
Fofanova, J.,& Vollrath, M. (2012). Distraction in older drivers – A face-to-faceinterview study. Safety Science, 50(3), 502–509.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2011.10.017
McEvoy, S. P.,Stevenson, M. R., & Woodward, M. (2006). The impact of driver distractionon road safety: Results from a representative survey in two Australian states. InjuryPrevention, 12(4), 242–247. https://doi.org/10.1136/ip.2006.012336
Namian, M.,Albert, A., & Feng, J. (2018). Effect of Distraction on Hazard Recognitionand Safety Risk Perception. Journal of Construction Engineering andManagement, 144(4), 04018008. https://doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)CO.1943-7862.0001459
Smallwood, J.,& Schooler, J. W. (2015). The Science of Mind Wandering: EmpiricallyNavigating the Stream of Consciousness. Annual Review of Psychology, 66(1),487–518. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-010814-015331
Tucker, S., &Keefe, A. (2018). 2018 Report on Work Fatality and Injury Rates in Canada.
Wallace, J.Craig., & Chen, G. (2005). Development and validation of a work-specificmeasure of cognitive failure: Implications for occupational safety. Journalof Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 78(4), 615–632.https://doi.org/10.1348/096317905X37442
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