Overcome Complacency in Workplace Safety - 5 Strategies

By Chris Moran – VP, Risk Control December 06th, 2023

Despite the time and money a typical company invests in workplace safety and risk control, complacency constantly sneaks around as a “silent killer” that can undermine these programs. During Captive Resources’ November Risk Control Webinar, Rick Grobart, risk control consultant representing Gallagher Bassett, covered five practical strategies to help employers mitigate complacency. Before we share these strategies, it’s helpful to define complacency so you can identify it and understand how it can lure your company into a false sense of security.

Cognitive Bias Enables Complacency

Grobart defined complacency as a feeling of contentment, self-satisfaction, or a lack of awareness about or indifference to dangers. The stealth nature of complacency requires employers to recognize it before harm occurs, Grobart said. He pointed out that workplaces evolve, e.g., equipment ages and new employees assigned to workflows are initially unfamiliar with them, increasing the risk of complacency.

Grobart explained that humans’ cognitive biases can help complacency take root in companies. He identified five types of cognitive bias:

  • Normalization of Deviance – Permitting unsafe procedures until they become ingrained bad habits.
  • Confirmation Bias – Only considering evidence that confirms one’s existing beliefs without considering information that challenges those beliefs.
  • Optimism Bias – Thinking future positive events are more likely to occur than negative ones.
  • Illusion of Control – Overestimating one’s degree of control over complex systems, which can breed dangerous overconfidence.
  • Inattentional Blindness – Overlooking obvious events when focused on something else.

Leadership often bears considerable responsibility for complacency in a company, Grobart added. When leadership becomes complacent about safety, this attitude tends to spread throughout the organization, and employees follow leadership’s example. That’s why leadership’s commitment to safety is crucial, he said.

Employers need to train employees for safety on a given task, no matter how many times they have performed the task, Grobart said. He added that it makes sense to evaluate routines that can breed a false sense of security.

The 5 Strategies

Having explained what complacency is and how it increases the risks of accidents, Grobart covered five strategies companies can use to reduce or eliminate it:

No. 1: Conduct Ongoing Tailored Training

Safety training should cover best practices, potential hazards, the rationale behind safety protocols, and workplace changes that might carry new risks. He suggested that employers vary training formats and presenters. He also said they should ensure that training is substantive and motivates and empowers employees.

No. 2: Enable Anonymous Safety Reporting

Employers should enable anonymous safety reporting of close calls and perceived hazards to ensure that employees can voice safety concerns without fear of retaliation so employers can proactively address them before accidents occur.

No. 3: Conduct Regular Self-Audits and Inspections

It’s critical that employers conduct structured, formal assessments of equipment, procedures, and facilities regularly. Employers should note any hazards the audits uncover and use the information to implement improvements.

No. 4: Encourage Speaking Up

Employers should encourage employees to speak up about safety concerns without fear of judgment or being belittled over cautious questions. Ask them how comfortable they are about speaking up to evaluate the environment for airing concerns.

No. 5: Analyze Close Calls

Employers should study critical data on accidents, injuries, and close calls to identify improvements proactively before events become catastrophic. Share takeaways on past incidents to raise awareness of hazards and use dashboards to make data transparent across the company.

Grobart concluded his presentation by saying that “small steps matter.” He said overcoming complacency won’t happen overnight; instead, employers should strive to make daily incremental improvements.

About the Webinar

This presentation was part of Captive Resources’ Risk Control Webinar Series — regular installments of webinars to educate the group captive members we work with on topics like workplace safety, organizational leadership, and company performance. The thoughts and opinions expressed in these webinars are those of the presenters and do not necessarily reflect Captive Resources’ positions on any of the above topics.

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