The Need for Speed

In this hurry-up world, life moves quickly. We find ourselves rushing to complete nearly every task. One dictionary definition of rushing is "to act swiftly with too little reflection." Another definition I've seen is "moving (mentally and/or physically) at a pace where you are not able to maintain control of hazard awareness – too fast for prevailing conditions." Moving at all due speed is commendable, but rushing can cause problems when we are not in full control of our actions.

Those who seem to be in the greatest hurry are drivers on the highway. Out of curiosity, I decided to count the number of cars that passed me as I drove at the speed limit on a number of highways in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I compiled data over a total of 361 miles, during trips of varying lengths. I counted 734 cars driving over the speed limit that passed me. It seems that many drivers don't realize that excessive speed is one of the top two causes of motor vehicle accidents, which claim more than 30,000 lives and injure more than 2 million each year.

What can cause you to be rushed at work?

  • Production deadlines in the production cycle when all of the delays that occur early in the process place undue pressure on the workers at the end of the cycle
  • Unreasonable time constraints
  • Trying to do too many things at once
  • Trying to get the job done as quickly as possible

There are plenty of times when you can also feel rushed off the job. You know the feeling!

There are times when speed is highly desirable, as in competitive sports such as:

  • Running track
  • A swim meet
  • A tennis serve (first one, anyway)
  • A pitcher's fastball
  • Drag racing

There are, however, many more instances when competitors must balance speed with pace and efficiency, in order to maintain equipment, avoid accidents, and to not run out of steam in the long run, such as:

  • Tour de France
  • Running a marathon
  • Pitching a complete baseball game
  • The Daytona 500
  • A tennis second serve

Consequences of rushing are not often positive, including:

  • Injuries, such as sprains/strains; slips, trips, and falls; and running into objects
  • Errors and mistakes
  • Dropped items
  • Loss of focus
  • Frustration
  • Confusion
  • Missing something important
  • Looking for shortcuts
  • Skipped steps

Rushing reduces your margin for error. To stay in control, to work effectively, and to avoid accidents or ergonomic injuries, we need to be able to pace ourselves.

What, then, is an optimum pace, at which a task can be completed safely? It varies with the task, ranging from the routine to emergency situations. Is faster safe? More productive? There needs to be a among between productivity, safety, and minimization of errors. Not that it seems to matter today, but the optimum fuel economy (in miles per gallon) on an automobile is attained somewhere around 55 miles per hour.

Who sets speed limits when it comes to human activities?

  • On a production line time study, professionals take into account variability in talents, operator comfort zones, and performance that improves with experience and repetition (time needs to be allowed in order to develop prowess with a job, along with recovery time for strenuous jobs) to optimize production rates. (I once toured a gun manufacturing plant. Watching a handgun being assembled, I asked the operator how long it took to become adept at assembling a gun. I was told that, as a trainee, it took a week to assemble a gun. As an experienced assembler, the task took a few hours.)
  • Equipment manufacturers who specify how fast tools and machinery can operate safely without failure.
  • Supervisors who want to get the work out at all costs.
  • YOU need to recognize when you are losing control by moving too quickly.

When rushed, can you be effective? Maybe. Will you make mistakes? Probably, due to increased stress and tension.

Determining optimum speed is a balance between productivity and risk. Working up to speed while learning about and meeting challenges of the job as you becomes more experienced with an activity helps you to maximize your productivity. Trying to move beyond that point can only lead to errors, which can lead to accidents, injuries, or defective product.

Keeping all these facts in mind, each activity must be evaluated based on balancing the requirements of the task and the capabilities of the individual performing the job. Keeping within reasonable and sustainable limits can maintain a working balance between productivity and safety.

Joseph Werbicki is a Safety Consultant, Trainer, Author, and Lecturer with more than 25 years of teaching experience. He has served as chairman of the Board of the Massachusetts Safety Council and as president of the Safety Association of Rhode Island. He is the author and presenter of a comprehensive safety training course, "Safety: Core to Edge." His articles have been published in Occupational Health & Safety, EHS Today, American Jewelry Manufacturer, Products Finishing, Metal Finishing, the Journal of the American Electroplaters' Society, and newsletters of the Boston, Springfield (MA), and Worcester (MA) ASSE chapters. Contact him at jwerbicki@comcast.net.

Posted on Sep 06, 2017


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