Safety Mind Games: Readiness Versus Barriers
By Carl and Deb Potter
probably heard the term “Get your mind in the game.” Coaches and
supervisors alike want the people around them to have their minds on
what’s going on, whether it’s an actual game or the task at hand. A
winning coach would never send a team to the field without making
sure the players were mentally ready – if he did, he’d no longer be
comes to safety, far too often workers, supervisors, and managers
put up barriers to safety and they don’t even realize it. Yet,
adopting an approach of readiness will help overcome, and even
remove, many of the obstacles we have in our minds. What keeps you
or your team from being mentally ready for the job?
Identifying the Mental Roadblocks to Safety: Consider the
following five barriers found in employees’ minds regardless of
their levels in the organization:
1) “Accidents are just going to happen.” It’s surprising
how many intelligent managers, supervisors, and employees have this
barrier. This is a fatalistic belief that creates an obstacle to
organizational learning about safety. It demonstrates an attitude
of hopelessness and stifles creativity and improvement in the
organization’s safety process.
2) “It’s not going to happen to me.” This barrier is a
polar opposite to the previous one. When employees have this
attitude, it prevents them from taking responsibility for safety.
When an employee has this mental barrier to safety, it puts everyone
around them in danger – the employee and the co-workers and
sometimes members of the public.
3) “I have enough experience or skill to take shortcuts.”
This egotistical approach to safety is a barrier that causes
individuals with this mindset to resist training, coaching and
feedback that can help them to stay safe on the job. This obstacle
is a very dangerous one because it often exists in the minds of more
senior or experienced workers who set a poor example to those who
are less experienced. This is an excuse for not following the
company’s safe work practices, a behavior that sets a poor example
for less experienced workers.
4) “I’ll do it just this once.” These words may be the last
words of a fool. How often have you said this yourself or heard
others say it. Any time you think or say this phrase, it should be
a big red danger flag for you. You may be getting ready to injure
yourself or damage equipment.
5) “Zero is impossible.” This is the mother of all safety
barriers. It’s really an indicator of a barrier that needs to be
eliminated. Ask yourself why you’d work where it’s not possible to
work without injury. This barrier affects individuals and the
entire organization because it shuts down efforts to create a zero
Carefully consider these mental barriers to safety. You may find
that you recognize them, or other obstacles, in yourself. These
barriers pop up at different times, for different reasons. You will
often notice them in a safety meeting when you think that you have
already heard about the topic so many times, you just don’t want to
hear it again. Or you may notice a barrier pop up when you’re in a
hurry. Sometimes a barrier is a permanent one, so ingrained in our
thinking that we don’t even recognize it. That’s why it’s important
to first recognize the barriers, then work to understand the concept
of mental readiness.
Tips to Maintain Your Personal Safety Readiness: The following
five tips will help you maintain your team’s and your personal
1) Take advantage of any and all training applicable to your
job: Training is the foundation for mental readiness.
You may find that you are lacking in some pertinent job-related
skills or think you are overdue for refresher training on safety
techniques. Discuss this with your leader and find a way to get the
training you need. Self-initiative goes a long way in eliminating
mental roadblocks to safety.
2) Examine your own mental barriers to safety: Pay
attention to what you are thinking about during the next safety
meeting you attend. Are you mentally present or just drifting off
with your thoughts? Discipline yourself to actively consider the
information presented for application to your own work. It may be
what you need to know to prevent an injury.
3) Pay attention to the mental barriers others demonstrate:
As you go about your work, whether you’re a supervisor or an
individual contributor on the job, listen to the barriers that
others have. Take time to discuss these barriers before the job
starts or stop a job in progress if you observe obstacles to
4) Encourage your work group to openly engage in mental
readiness for safety: When a work team is mentally ready through
training and pre-job briefings, the entire organization increases
its potential for zero injuries. Sometimes all it takes is some
encouragement from within a team to get members involved in the
5) Make time for mental readiness: Mental readiness
takes a little time. If you are in a position of authority, ensure
that employees have time for training and refreshers on safe work
practices and technical skills.
Eliminate the Barriers to Safety by Increasing Your Mental
Readiness: By understanding that mental readiness can bring down
the barriers to a zero injury culture, you’re on your way to
creating a workplace where nobody gets hurt. Stay aware of the
mental barriers in your own mind and talk about barriers with your
work group and you’ll find that everyone will stay focused and
alert. That’s something we can all live with.
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and Deb Potter.
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