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October 17, 2005
Avoiding Complacency on the Job

Most accidents are caused by unsafe acts. You work hard to create a safe workplace for your workers and eliminate unsafe conditions. But what about employees' own unsafe behavior? If you examined your accident records for the past few years, you'd likely find that the root-cause of most of the accidents was unsafe acts rather than unsafe conditions. If you read between the lines of the accident reports, you might find that the workers involved in the incidents had become complacent about safety. They'd gone on "autopilot" and stopped paying attention to what they were doing. They'd taken shortcuts. They'd taken risks. They'd developed an "It won't happen to me" attitude.

What could go wrong? If your employees aren't thinking about what could go wrong every day, all day, while they work, they're not going to be completely safe. They need to be trained to think ahead as they approach each task and consider:

  • What they're working with
  • What they'll be doing
  • Where they'll be going
  • What could go wrong

Encourage employees to examine the substances, equipment, procedures, and situations that are part of their job and look for possible hazards. Remind them that to be safe, they need to focus physically and mentally on their work, no matter how many times they may have done the same job.

Why It Matters...
  • There were 4.4 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses reported in private industry in 2003 (the most recent year for which statistics are available).
  • Approximately 2.3 million of those cases involved days away from work, job transfer, or restricted duty.
  • In the same year, 5,575 American workers were killed in job accidents, and in 2004, fatalities increased 2 percent to 5,703.
  • It has been estimated that 80 percent to 90 percent of workplace accidents are the result of unsafe acts.

Impress upon them the fact that accidents occur in the blink of an eye. All it takes is one second of inattention, one moment of carelessness.

Stop complacency in its tracks. Complacency on the job injures and kills. And it spreads like a disease from one worker to another. One employee sees a co-worker taking a shortcut and figures, "If he can do it, why can't I?" You can't afford to let complacency take over in your workplace. Use safety meetings and other training opportunities to get the message across that complacency is dangerous—as dangerous as any machine, chemical, or other recognized workplace hazard. Through a strong commitment to safety training and awareness, you can create a safety culture that seeks out and eradicates complacency, replacing it with an emphasis on alertness, planning, hazard identification, problem solving, and accident prevention.

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