Many things that compromise workplace health and safety, our level of training, our understanding of regulatory compliance and our overstretched budgets to name but a few. But, one of the biggest enemies of workplace health and safety is, in fact, complacency. A false sense of security, the feeling that we know better, can lead us into serious problems. We all become used to doing things in a certain way and, once we do, we can become oblivious to the hazards around us.
While we understand that experienced employees will have a better understanding of risks than new recruits, is it guaranteed that those risks will be front of mind? After years of experience on the job, it’s easy to become complacent and blindsided. In fact, our new freshly-trained recruits may be more risk-savvy than the rest of us. So, how do we fight complacency, keep safety in the spotlight and keep our employees’ minds on the task at hand?
What is Complacency?
In short, complacency is a false sense of security. It is the result of assuming that, because there have been no issues, the way that we’re working is perfectly fine. However, just because nothing has happened yet, doesn’t mean that it won’t. Complacency is a constant cause of frustration for safety professionals; it undermines the point of identifying risks in the workplace. “This is the way we’ve always done it” might hold true now, but what happens when there is an injury or worst still a death – can we really afford to let our employees become complacent?
The Dangers of Complacency in The Workplace
Complacency is extremely dangerous. It is the cause of many car accidents and a considerable number of near misses in the workplace. And, adding to the danger it brings, is the difficulty in identifying it. While we all know why safety is important and can try to implement appropriate measures, we can’t easily measure whether employees are vigilant or complacent in their day-to-day activities.
Complacency in the workplace can quite literally be a killer. It’s easy for employees to be entirely unaware of how complacent they’ve become until an incident takes place. And, while an incident will kick start efforts to refocus attention on the importance of safety, the focus can quickly begin to fade again. So, how do we stay on guard, ward off complacency and ensure safety doesn’t become redundant on the job?
How to Fight Complacency
Quite honestly the only way we can fight complacency is to be constantly vigilant, however, that is no mean task. We need to adopt processes and behaviours that will help our employees to curb complacency, such as:
- Sharing the safety mission – constantly reminding employees of the company’s purpose and goals, letting them know that their behaviour has a direct impact.
- Adding variety – while routines are a necessary part of everyone’s jobs, it helps to add variety by changing up some of the tasks and reducing day-to-day repetition.
- Supporting observation – encouraging employees to observe the actions of others will make it easier for them to identify risks in the workplace and will help raise awareness of their own actions.
- Correct errors – training and mentoring programs should be in place to help employees both identify and change dangerous practices and mitigate potential problems.
All of these ways to battle complacency need to be constant. Workplace safety should be part of every briefing, safety signage should be as eye-catching as possible, and safety professionals should be enlisted so that there is a dedicated resource with its eye firmly set on safety at all times. Organisations need to create a feeling of chronic unease, a scepticism towards everything they see and do if they are to avoid the curse of complacency.
The Power of Chronic Unease
Chronic unease may not sound like something you want, but it’s actually the hidden ingredient in successful safety culture. The opposite of complacency, chronic unease is a state where safety is always questioned rather than assumed. Chronic unease involves looking into the future with pessimism, anticipating failure and creating ways to avoid it.
We should constantly worry about workplace health and safety if we are to keep ourselves and our employees safe. We need to stay vigilant to fight off complacency, and we need to do it as a team. Complacency will always creep back in, so a one-off effort, however big, isn’t enough. Safety needs to be ingrained in the culture of our businesses if we are to mitigate the risks. We should work on challenging the notion of how things have always been done and create a mindset of how things can always be done better. In short, we can never be safe enough.
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