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Safety Mind Games: Readiness Versus Barriers

By Carl and Deb Potter

You’ve 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 a winner.

When it 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 injury culture.

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.

Five Tips to Maintain Your Personal Safety Readiness: The following five tips will help you maintain your team’s and your personal safety readiness:

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 safety.

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 safety process.

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.

Read other articles and learn more about Carl and Deb Potter.

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