Drive down the main drag of almost any city and look at the drivers you pass as you go the speed limit and they poke along. What do you see? Eyes down, instead of paying attention to the road.
Sit in a turn lane and look at the distances between the cars. Why is it so long, and why aren’t people going while that light is green? To get the answer, stand on the side of the road sometime and look at the eyes of the drivers.
Texting while driving violates common sense, mostly because safe driving is a full-time job—it requires processing huge amounts of information and making intelligent decisions. It’s a complex environment that is constantly changing. Very seldom is a vehicular collision truly an accident. Nearly always, it’s the direct result of one or more unsafe acts.
When it comes to electrical work, one could argue the need for “being fully in the moment” and “being completely there” is even greater than when behind the wheel of that rolling “weapon of mass inertia.”
Fortunately, qualified electricians have a much better grasp on the need for paying attention than many of today’s automobile drivers. Any qualified electrician knows not to do texting or even carry on a casual conversation while working. Distraction avoidance is almost an art form among qualified electricians.
Yet paying attention can, and should go beyond simply avoiding distraction. What if you had an attention level that enabled you to spot unusual, yet barely noticeable causes of problems? It can be developed with practice, and it can provide impressive results.
Consider Dan “The Miracle Man,” an electrician at a plastics plant in Kentucky. He was the guy called when nobody else could identify a mystery problem.
One of Dan’s “miracles” involved a complex process machine that included an extrusion stage. It would occasionally “go nuts” and ruin the whole batch. Once this started happening, it annoyed the production people and vexed the maintenance people.
The problem almost invariably involved one of the process measurement inputs to the PLC. Sometimes, the problem would seem to fix itself while an electrician was simulating the process variable from the machine back to the PC.
Nobody argued when the electrical supervisor decided this head-scratcher was a job for Dan The Miracle Man. For the first couple of hours, Dan sat in the shop going through the system manuals and diagrams. After maybe 30 minutes at the machine, Dan called over the electrical maintenance supervisor and showed what he found.
Barely discernible on a signal cable jacket was a depression about six inches long. Dan pointed out several more such depressions. He said they were footprints. The cables had been walked on, probably by the operator as a shortcut to get from his station to the other side of the machine. The cables ran across a four foot wide gap in machine sections. The gap basically allowed the operator to step through a sort of door instead of walking all the way around the machine.
The operator had to go to the other side to access one panel that had some gauges and a few buttons. This shortcut saved him time he would have spent walking around and around that machine.
Pulling all new signal cables fixed the “going nuts” problem. Thanks to Dan’s attention to the whole situation, plant engineering also knew to move that panel to the same side as all the other gauges and controls. There was no longer a reason to step across those cables, but they were run in raceway anyhow.
Inattention is increasingly becoming a problem in society generally. How can we prevent this malady from sneaking into the electrical industry culture? The answer is to take positive, discrete measures to improve attention.
Attention atrophy is much like muscle atrophy. The saying is, “Use it or you lose it.” People who are physically active don’t see their muscles wither away. But sedentary people steadily lose muscle until they eventually become too weak to stand on their own legs. You can let your attentiveness slip away like that, or you can make a conscious effort to build it.
You build attentiveness the same way you build muscular strength: by using it. Flex your attention muscles every time you start working on electrical equipment.
Here’s an exercise to do. As you start a job, ask yourself, “What potential dangers can I find here?” Start with a visual scan of the area (notice that wet spot on the floor?). Then methodically inspect everything you will walk past, stand near, or touch. What is out of place or, now that you’re really looking hard at it, doesn’t look quite right?
If you start each job this way, what do you think your attention level will be when attending to the technical issues? Dan didn’t spot those footprints by luck. He spotted them by paying attention. That’s the kind of attentiveness you can build only by making a consistent effort to do so.