(May 2, 2018) Hear the audio version

Last month I read an article about an industrial safety technique used by Japan’s rail workers. Shisa kanko, or, in English, “pointing-and-calling,” reduces workplace errors by up to 85 percent. The method involves looking at an object, pointing at it, calling out the procedure, and listening to the call. Speed check? Point at the speedometer, call out the speed, hear that call, safely move on. My friend who recently returned from Japan watched train conductors sweep white-gloved hands through the air while calling out safety checks to no one in particular. Fascinating!

I haven’t been a train conductor since I spent Sunday afternoons in my grandparents’ Whittier basement running locomotives through the towns of Grandpa’s elaborate homemade train set. However, I wondered if pointing-and-calling could help me remember if I, say, locked the front door at night, or turned off a burner. How about close the garage door? I have been known to drive around the block to make sure I closed that darn door, because doing so is so rote. Now after I back out of the garage, I point at the door, punch the remote, call out “Closed the garage door!” and watch it go down. I feel a little silly, but I also don’t drive around the block anymore.

I now point and speak out loud to many of my appliances, as well as prescription bottles, my puppy’s supper dish … lots of things. By engaging multiple senses while performing routine tasks I’m increasing awareness and reducing the chance of error. Paying close attention to what I’m doing is the opposite of multitasking, which humans apparently aren’t very good at anyway. That’s why texting while driving any vehicle is so dangerous. The L.A. Metrolink train crash in 2008 that killed 25 was caused by an engineer running a red light while texting. Those Japanese rail workers aren’t even allowed to carry cell phones. Another good idea!

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.