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Does safety matter in your workplace? Learn the common mind traps in safety and how to overcome them

Sergio Dosda
August, 2020

Safety in the workplace today is different from the past. Today, process improvements, safer designs, systems, and protective equipment are not enough. To create workspaces that are truly safe, companies must cultivate organizational cultures that prioritize safety by focusing on the behaviors and mindsets that enable lasting change.

Construction, Building

Part of developing a culture of safety is determining the obstacles that prevent people from moving towards advancement. Beyond the proper physical tools or processes, ‘mind traps,’ or inherent subconscious ideas and beliefs that prevent people from achieving an ideal state, are one of the major barriers preventing organizations from improving their safety levels. Mind traps are difficult to identify and overcome because most people have a logical and rational basis for believing them.

Why is it important to identify mind traps in safety?

It is important to identify mind traps in safety because they have an impact on the way people communicate and behave in their day-to-day lives. If you believe accidents will still happen, no matter how much you try to communicate otherwise, your team will notice this belief and you will be passing on your mind traps to them. For example, if you believe that by sub-contracting an activity, it is normal for the number of incidents to increase, you will lower your guard and your team will do the same and thus increase the likelihood of an accident. In the end, mindsets impact and shape your behaviors and those of the people around you. The sum of these behaviors creates the company's safety culture.

To help you identify mind traps in safety in your organization, this list provides some of the most common mind traps people in safety experience.

Common mind traps in safety

  1. Skepticism: This is usually one of the most difficult mind traps to overcome because people can use data to justify their beliefs. For example, if history shows that on average, one accident happens every year, it is reasonable to expect that it will continue, right? However, it is actually possible to eliminate accidents, but before this is possible, people must overcome their skepticism. Skepticism can sound like: "it is impossible not to expect any accidents over time – the data backs me up."

  2. Complacency: This mind trap typically occurs when companies have experienced periods of significant progress, with indicators showing an absence of serious accidents and therefore improvements in safety. When indicators begin to reach a plateau, it often serves as a justification to make leaders believe statements like: "we have improved a lot in recent years, further progress is going to be very difficult.”

  3. Criticism: This mind trap happens when people focus more on their surroundings rather than on how to actually improve themselves. This is normal when there are many things to improve and people don’t know where to start, when the job relies largely on third parties (collaborating companies, contractors), or when superiors do not always show coherence between what they do and say. Statements exhibiting criticism look like: "how do you expect me to set an example if my bosses don't?"

  4. Short-Termism: One of the main dilemmas in productive and industrial environments is the perceived tension between results and safety. The tension is only perceived because in more mature and advanced safety cultures, the two terms (results and safety) are not separated, nor do they contradict each other. This mind trap becomes accentuated in market environments that negatively affect income and margins, where naturally, the pressure for results makes the rest of the elements take a back seat. This thinking impacts what kinds of decisions are made, how they are communicated, and how they are executed. An example of the verbalization of this trap is: "safety is important, but sometimes it goes against efficiency.”

It is important to recognize that mind traps vary over time and are highly dependent on the environment in which you find yourself. There may be times when you think you have no mind traps, and then suddenly when facing a change of job or pressure for results, some are automatically activated. The nature of your day-to-day life greatly impacts your mind traps.

So, how do you face and overcome mind traps?

How to face and overcome mind traps

  1. Identify them: Identifying the main safety mind traps and knowing which ones you are more likely to fall into is the first step to overcoming them. Leverage evaluations to easily identify individual mind traps.

  2. Understand their impact: It is important to know the impact safety mind traps have on your behaviors and on the people around you - your team, your peers, your superiors, etc. Explore the impact your safety mindsets could have on the team.

  3. Challenge them: Finally, define mechanisms to challenge yourself, your colleagues, bosses, and teams to break free from the safety mind traps. Become the devil's advocate who questions the logical reasons behind the mind traps. For example, to combat skepticism, you might reference specific examples of long periods of time without accidents: “if we managed to spend a week, month, or year without any accidents in such an asset, we should be able to do the same with the rest of our assets, and for a much longer time, right?”

The ultimate goal of any business is to make money and therefore efficiency is key. However, to achieve such results in a sustainable way, safety must be integrated into your organization’s culture and way of working. This means identifying the mind traps in your organization and working as a collective to overcome them.

In an ideal state, at the more advanced levels of safety culture, there is a sense of community where everyone cares about each other. While the goal is still safely achieving business results (efficiency, income, margins), safety is not sacrificed.

In summary, to achieve significant improvements in organizational safety and wellbeing, it is fundamental that companies focus on developing a culture of safety. Key to any organization sustainably achieving their goals, a safety culture not only enables success, but also ensures that everyone gets home to their loved ones safe and sound. To achieve this goal, it is critical to understand the mind traps within your organization and learn the mechanisms to challenge and overcome them.

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