Complacency is defined as “calm contentment; satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.”
For example: A deer at a watering hole is enjoying a cool drink of water after a long day out on the Serengeti. He is giving little or no thought about what is on the mind of the lion just feet away from him. We see complacency as being involved in a staggering number of the incidents that plague our industry. A comprehensive study is overdue on how many incidents have complacency as a contributing factor.
In the Complacency Part 1 edition a number of strategies that could help to combat this issue were discussed.
We mentioned awareness campaigns, making safety procedures a habit and taking a few minutes to observe someone else, all as worthy strategies to prevent complacency. In this article, the goal is not so much to introduce other strategies, but rather to take a much closer look at the whole at risk system to see how complacency and the strategies to combat it fit in. Before that; however, there is one message that I would like to emphasize. That message is simply that we have systems in place that work. We need to trust those systems and make sure they are used effectively. By this, I am referring to all the company safety rules in place, the permit systems, the pro-gram of safety meetings, tool box meetings and pauses, and all of the other methods that are practiced on site. These are all valid systems and have been effective in developing a strong safety culture. Continue to use those things and make them as impactful as you can. The problem is that even in these, complacency is a real danger. Safe-ty meetings can become repetitive and as such meaningless, permits can be posted without really considering the hazards they are designed to control. Therefore, the strategies we present on complacency will complement all the other things you do on the site.
Okay, as I promised let’s now take a closer look at how the complacency strategies fit into the whole system. To do this, I want to give you a thirty second crash course on the At Risk Behavioral Model.
Here it is. The At Risk Behavioral Model has six points; they are: types of at risk behavior, sources of unexpected events, critical errors leading to injury, states of being contributing errors, hazard awareness and finally critical error reduction techniques.
Let’s consider At Risk Behaviors. There are three types of at risk behavior. They are intentional, unintentional and
habitual, Taking short cuts is probably the best example of intentional at risk behaviors. The worker knows what the proper procedure is but chooses to do something else. It’s not that the person is deliberately trying to get hurt. It’s just that he has taken the riskier way and has not had an accident and probably was able to do the job quicker or easier. The fact that he didn’t get hurt results in ‘positive reinforcement of a negative act’.
Unintentional behaviors are most often done by ‘rookies’ out on the job. They do the at risk behavior simply because they haven’t been trained or weren’t listening during training or simply because they don’t have the experience to know better.
Habitual behaviors come when someone has been performing the at risk behavior for so long they no longer consider the risks and that’s where complacency comes in. When complacency sets in eventually there will be an unexpected occurrence.
The three sources of unexpected are mechanical (i.e. where something breaks or fails), the other person (where a crew member does something unexpected or self (where you yourself do something you had no intention of doing). Ninety percent of all injuries come from the ’Self’ source of the unexpected. Therefore while incidents can occur from the first two sources the area we can get the most improvement is in the ‘Self’ source of the unexpected.
Now let’s move on to Critical Errors. The four critical errors that occur are ‘eyes not on task’, ‘mind not on task’, ‘being in or moving into the line of fire’ and ‘losing our balance, traction or grip’.
The reason why we make these kinds of critical errors is often because of one of the states of being we are in. There are others, but the four most common states of being that lead to errors are rushing, frustration, fatigue and complacency. I’m quite sure that just about everyone at one time or another has committed errors as a result of being in one of these four states. It may or may not have caused an accident, but it did put you into a higher at risk situation. How many of us have driven while we are tired? You might not have had an accident, but certainly it was harder to keep the vehicle between the two lines. As a result of fatigue you put yourself in a riskier situation.
The state of complacency is where we simply don’t consider the hazards. As a result we commit one of the four critical errors be-cause we know ‘it won’t happen to us’. We study a map, or text while driving, we get engrossed in a conversation or thinking about what has occurred or some task we will need to do rather than concentrating on what’s going on around us.
The chart to the above explains visually how most incidents occur. The states cause errors which in turn increases the amount of risk involved. The arrow pointing upwards shows where the majority of safety training we do is directed. Follow directions, watch what you are doing, etc., etc. All this, of course, has value, but it should be done in conjunction with teaching safety skills. Teaching the four critical error reduction techniques is key in com-batting complacency. This type of training focuses on the state which causes the errors rather than the errors themselves.
The first technique is to self-trigger on the State. We already do this to some degree. When we become frustrated assembling furniture with complicated instructions, we often stop in frustration and leave the task for a while before continuing. This is usually enough to focus us and enable us to complete the assembly successfully. This is a very successful strategy for the top three states, but usually doesn’t work so well for complacency. That’s because it’s much easier to recognize frustration, fatigue or when we are rushing than it is to recognize complacency.
The second technique has more value against complacency. Analyzing close calls and small injuries is a good safety skill to develop as long as our analysis includes analyzing the state we were in and how it contributed to the error we made. An example of this would be ‘while driving you come up on slower traffic a little faster than you intended’. The tendency is to just forget about it since nothing negative happened, but getting into the habit of asking yourself why that happened is an excellent safety skill to develop and can improve your driving.
The third technique as discussed last issue is to observe others. It is much easier to recognize error patterns in others than it is ourselves. The result is that you will avoid being in the way of the person’s risk behavior and secondly you will see that you don’t want to copy that type of behavior. The ideal we would hope for, of course, is that you will intervene. That way we are preventing our co-worker from getting hurt, but it helps both of you to avoid complacency.
The best safety systems nowadays not only have a strong traditional safety program but they also include some type of observation program as well. Workers are encouraged to do safety observations. When at risk behaviors are observed there is no disciplinary action, but those involved take part in a discussion on how to correct the behavior. This discussion could take place in the safety meeting so the whole crew benefits. The more peer observations take place, the more crews will benefit. I’d en-courage you to talk with the OSR on your site and see if you can get some form of observation program up and running for your site. It will do a lot to fight complacency.