Selective Attention at Work

Selective Attention Safety Talk

There is so much activity occurring around us while on the job that it can make it easy to miss many details in our work environment. This includes overlooking hazards that may be responsible for a serious injury or fatality if not recognized and corrected. It is important to consider how much we may be actually overlooking or not focusing on while on the job. In this safety talk, we will look at a video that examines our ability to focus and recognize the details of things occurring around us.

Selective Attention Test Video

Watch this video and count how many times the individuals in white shirts pass the basketball before scrolling down.

The correct answer is 16. Good job if you got the answer correct, however, getting this answer was not the point of this video. There were also other things going on in the video besides girls in black and white shirts passing a basketball.

Did you happen to see the gorilla that walked into view and stood in the middle of the girls before leaving the frame? Great job if you spotted the gorilla. Approximately only 50% of individuals see the gorilla the first time they watch the video if they have never seen a similar experiment done. Did you see anything else in the video that was odd?

What about one of the girls in a black shirt exiting the frame to the right about two-thirds through the video? Did you also catch the curtain in the background fully change from red to gold by the end of the video? Not many people catch all of these things while watching the video. (For a longer version of this video showing and explaining all of these items please check out this link.)

How Selective Attention Can Impact Safety on the Job

While the creator of the video plays a little trick on the viewers by asking them to count the passes in order to divert attention from the changes occurring, parallels can be made between this phenomenon and missing important details at work. Many of our tasks require almost all our attention on a single focus point or two, which limits our ability to see other things. Factor in distractions, complacency, and other human performance factors, and it is not difficult to see why we so easily miss critical details.

We will look at an example of how selective attention plays a role at work. In our example, a spotter is watching a lifted load being moved across a laydown yard. This task requires him to pay close attention to the load. The problem with this is that it can create tunnel vision, just like trying to count the passes in the video.

Also, just like in the video, there are likely changes occurring in the work environment and other tasks going on around the spotter while he is focusing on the lifted load. Unlike the video, where the changes are harmless, changes while completing a task could be hazards that are left unnoticed and can injure the spotter. These hazards could be anything from a small trip hazard dropped by another worker to as big as 70 ton articulating dump truck backing up right toward the spotter.


Most people realize they miss certain details from time to time; however, many individuals may not realize how much they are actually missing every single day. The selective attention test is a good way to convey how easy it is to miss critical details when our attention is elsewhere. When you go to do your work tasks today, evaluate what critical details or hazards you may not be paying attention to.

Discussion point: How can we pay better attention to what is occurring around us here?

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