We talk a lot about behaviors in safety—whether you’re a proponent of Behavior Based Safety (BBS) or Just Culture, how workers behave is of paramount concern to safety professionals. But what about worker attitudes? Shouldn’t they be as much of a concern as behaviors? These kinds of questions make behaviorists cringe principally and appropriately because we can’t scientifically measure an attitude.
Attitudes are based on emotions that are often the result of the flight-fight reflex triggered in the medulla oblongata. But just because we can’t measure attitudes doesn’t make them less important in safety. In fact, there are six attitudes that can get one killed:
“This will only take a minute”
Too many people die doing something that takes little or no time. The victims reason that the relatively small amount of time during which they will be exposed to the hazard equates to a smaller risk of injury. Taking the time to protect oneself is important in and of itself irrespective of the window in which an injury can occur.
“What are the odds?”
So often I hear injured workers relate “freak accidents” or “acts of God injuries.” but many workers play free and easy with safety because they grossly under estimate the odds of injury. The same people who will buy $100 in multigame lottery tickets expecting to win a cash jackpot will cavalierly gamble with their lives and health.
“Protective Equipment/Measures Aren’t Worth The Hassle”
If I’ve heard this once I’ve heard it a thousand times—wearing PPE is too hot, restricts movement, or is otherwise just not worth the effort. Often workers believe that PPE is unnecessary or the protection offered is completely out of proportion with the risk involved, at least until somebody dies.
“I don’t need training—this isn’t rocket science”
Some jobs appear on the surface to be so simple that nobody recognizes a legitimate need for training. People roll their eyes and smirk at the mere mention that they would need training in such a rudimentary task. Unfortunately it can be tough to draw the line between a rudimentary task that requires no training and one that, while unsophisticated, isn’t exactly intuitive. People may be able to figure a task out without proper training, but they are generally at risk while doing so.
“Safety Rules are Likely to Do More Harm than Good”
I often hear people argue against wearing safety belts while driving, arguing that they would prefer to die in an accident than be drowned when they crash into a lake or be burned to death when their cars explode because they are unable to release their safety belts. Michigan State Police have estimated that half of all highway fatalities would have been prevented had those involved worn safety belts. The reality is that the probability of drowning in a pond or dying in a car fire is far less than dying from trauma that would have otherwise been prevented by a safety belt, and yet the attitude persists.
“What the safety guy doesn’t know won’t hurt ‘em”
Too many people still view safety as an authority to defy, as someone who is a cop, or as an obstructionist jerk. Safety professionals can never save your life, but they CAN help you to save your own.
There isn’t much we can do to change attitudes; certainly not through lectures or condescending speeches. But a simple change in one’s attitude can have a profound difference on workplace safety. Tragically, too often the attitude changes comes only after the loss of life or horrific injury.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Phil La Duke is a safety and training expert with Rockford Greene International, a Monroe, Mich.-based business optimization services company, www.rockfordgreene.com. He may be contacted at 530-208-3286 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also writes blogs at www.philladuke.wordpress.com and www.rockfordgreeneinternational.wordpress.com.
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