Complacency in the Workplace

Murray Kirkwood, the Safety and Environment Coordinator for Forestry Tasmania (Derwent District) shares a poignant article on Complacency and Situational Awareness. I should also mention that Murray spends his weekends as a Commercial Pilot flying tourists on scenic flights and bushwalks into Tasmania’s remote South West. (lucky man!!!)
Have you ever heard people say, “I would never have expected it to happen to him/her” and if you have, what is it that makes people say this?

Chances are that those least likely to be involved in incidents or accidents but are, are in fact victims of their own complacency, a lack of vigilance due to familiarity of task. One reason why people are assumed less susceptible to accidents or incidents is because they are deemed experienced. They have been doing what they do for a long time and know their job like the proverbial back of their hands. Herein lies the trap. As confidence grows, so too does the very real risk of becoming unaware of latent task related hazards. A loss of situational awareness occurs.

Living and working safely is a time-acquired existence. It is not something that automatically befalls us. We need to proactively maintain workable safety conditions in and around our personal space, and that is both at home and at work, to guarantee an acceptably safe environment. Now, before that’s misinterpreted as cocooning ourselves in cotton wool or donning suits of armour in the interests of safety, I did say “workable safety conditions.” So how do we achieve “workable safety?” We improve our basic levels of vigilance, which guards against complacency and thus, a loss of situational awareness.

So, how does complacency develop, how does it creep into your existence? It has to do with ongoing exposure to experiences that remain free of undesirable outcomes. A generic example to put it all into context:
Travelling along in your car, you decide to change lanes. Your recent attendance of a defensive driving seminar has you applying all of your newly acquired driving skills. You indicate with the mandatory 5 flashes of your indicator, check your blind spot by looking over your shoulder and gently accelerate into the vacant right lane. All very cool. A few months later, travelling on the same stretch of road at the same time of day, making for the same destination, you decide to change lanes. Five mandatory flashes of your indicator, you apply your now somewhat forgotten driving skills and gently accelerate into that “vacant” right lane.
The blaring hooter of an irate baseball bat wielding bogun has you realising that you’re about to become part of your state Road Rage Statistics. Veering back into your lane you look sheepishly ahead as Conan the Barbarian cruises past giving you the thousand foot stare for your transgressions, eagerly seeking opportunity to belt you with his bat! Sound familiar? I’m sure it does!! You’ve just become a victim of complacency by not checking your blind spot.

The key to avoiding complacency lies in proactively doing the following:

  • Develop and practice your own safety habits until you are spontaneously safe.
  • Share your complacency-related incidents no matter how big a “Goose” you feel.
  • Find out what others are doing to stay vigilant.

Improve your situational awareness by thinking about what it is you’re about to do and whether your “doing” will achieve the desired outcome.

Remember, to err is human. Error consequence is directly proportional to your situational awareness.

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

Leave a Reply

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a Gravatar.