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Sept. 23, 2016 // Fighting Distractions Never Gets Old

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The Turn Off Tune In (TOTI) safety campaign continues to offer resources to help keep controllers vigilant in the fight against workplace distractions.

Although the FAA-NATCA distraction awareness campaign for air traffic controllers has already been around for three years, Turn Off Tune In never gets old. It’s just too important. The job of a controller is demanding and requires constant attention to detail in a 24/7 operation. That’s why it’s critical for controllers and managers to understand the impact of workplace distractions on the profession.

The Turn Off Tune In campaign has helped tackle this issue in the air traffic control environment, with an emphasis on maintaining a cellphone-free environment in control rooms across the country. The campaign has proven successful, and many facilities have embraced a culture change that doesn’t tolerate electronic distractions. Several facilities have installed phone-charging stations in break rooms or in hallways, while both management and controllers have become more informed on the importance of ensuring that electronic devices remain out of the operating environment.

“Cellphones are so pervasive in our lives that they may feel like a natural extension of ourselves, but we must always remain committed to eliminating these potential distractions from air traffic control,” said Rob Mickolayck, an operations supervisor at Chicago Center and management lead on the TOTI workgroup.

“We’ve made great strides in eliminating cellphone distractions in the control environment, but we must continue to be vigilant and remind ourselves of our professional responsibility.”

To help facilities across the NAS ensure that the workplace remains free of distractions, the TOTI workgroup offers a variety of resources to facilities.

“You start to reach a maturity stage where you don’t have freshness as a tool anymore,” said Turn Off Tune In NATCA Lead Garth Koleszar. “Facilities can avail themselves by taking the opportunity to have someone come out and have a discussion about professionalism, what does it mean, and how it is tied to distractions.”

Koleszar has been doing such presentations since the TOTI program was launched in early 2013. He visited facilities and showed controllers “The Distracted Brain” video, which delves into the science of distractions and how cognitive energy devoted to a task is decreased when the brain becomes distracted.

BrainTOTI

But with hundreds of air traffic facilities across the United States, some of them may need a refresher or even an introduction to the program in case they missed it.

“I think that some facilities can be isolated simply because of their geography, and I think that can have an impact,” Koleszar said. “We want to let them know they are an important part of the system, and teach them why distractions are something we don’t want to get engaged with.”

Koleszar tailors presentations based on a facility’s unique needs, he said, because they range in size. Some comprise primarily older controllers, while other staffs are mostly millennials.

“If we can’t get there for a personal visit to talk TOTI and professionalism, a delivery of some new material will help keep our message in the forefront,” Mickolayck said.

Koleszar and Mickolayck attend several conventions throughout the year together, most notably NATCA’s Communicating For Safety conference, to offer advice and resources about maintaining professionalism in the workplace. This year, they also attended the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations conference, which was held in the United States for the first time.

Tools and resources such as posters and placards, videos and desktop wallpapers can help facilities visually remind its staff that cellphones should be left outside the operating quarters.

“We do need to refresh the TOTI materials periodically because the same sign or poster on the wall at work becomes simply part of the landscape and basically hides in plain sight,” Mickolayck said. “A different design or a new look helps us notice the signage, and triggers a fresh reminder about the program.”

Learn more about how controllers and managers are eliminating distractions by visiting Turn Off Tune In.

This story has also been published by the FAA Office of Communications.