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No room for complacency

20 April 2018

Worker complacency should never be underestimated, says Larry Wilson. It is very often the cause of accidents and mistakes being made in the process plant. 

The ‘recipe for safety’ HSE food industry initiative started in the early 1990’s, followed concerns that injury rates in the sector were too high. By 2012, this effort to improve health and safety had resulted in more than a 50% reduced injury rate.

For the food industry to maintain and then improve on this level of injury reduction there is a need to improve the personal safety awareness of employees. But, how can managers instil this awareness and to highlight how different states of mind, such as complacency, can immediately increases the risk of an incident?

Despite the strength of any health and safety management processes a facility may have in place, once a deemed fear of a hazard, or of performing a process, has alleviated it will no longer preoccupy the operator. This means that operating on auto-pilot happens naturally over time.

Complacency can also impact decision making, as people trust something important to memory (such as a job process), also potentially resulting in accidents. It makes it harder to recognise changes in familiar situations, when the danger and risk is perceived as low. It can also cause overconfidence. Even within health and safety, the checklists and processes business stipulate to employees, risk losing their value.

How can this be prevented? Recommended techniques include changing posters every 12-15 weeks, posting regular safety alerts, and discussing close calls/near-misses at group meetings. It is also important to engage individuals with questions such as:

• What states are involved when driving to or from work? For example, rushing, frustration or fatigue?
• What is worse for you: getting to work in the morning or going home - being frustrated going to work versus fatigue and complacency going home?
• What is the most likely way someone doing your job could get hurt?

The idea with this exercise is to get people thinking and understanding how dangerous not having their mind not on the task in hand can be. Fighting complacency does not require expensive equipment, but takes personal effort from workers, and an appreciation towards the risks. There is something that can be done. Reduction techniques include:

• Working on safety related habits: For example, moving your eyes before you move your hands, feet, body or car.
• Testing footing or grip before committing weight to it.
• Looking at your ‘second foot’ as you step over a cord or something else you could trip on.
• Habitually looking for the line of fire and what could be unexpectedly in your direction.

Although changing old habits and developing new ones takes real effort, once it does become a habit, it will be done automatically, and this helps to compensate for complacency and mind not on task. Watching other people and understanding how their behaviours could increase incidents can help people you to think about what they are doing at that particular moment and can bring the mind back to the task, again fighting complacency.

Decision making
As the food industry continues as a sector to be one that tackles health and safety seriously, individual safety awareness must still be improved.

To achieve this, individuals must understand the link between their own state of mind or body and the critical errors they make when they are in one or more of these states. It is the responsibility of employers to start creating this culture of safety awareness by educating employees to self-trigger on these states before they commit a critical error in the first place. Within an industry that prides itself on delivering safe products using sophisticated technology and processes, it is important never to forget that keeping employees safe and healthy away from work as well as in work, is a key component to continue the road to success.

Larry Wilson is vice-president at SafeStart, a human error prevention training company.

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