Complacency at work can lead to accidents.

When you conduct an internet search for “Where do most vehicle accidents happen?” the results will show a variety of sites, including government agencies, insurance companies and even law firms.

However, all sites echo a common theme: Most vehicle accidents occur close to home, generally within 25 miles of where you live.

Reasons for this are obvious. People spend most of the time driving within 25 miles of their house - work commutes, supermarket trips and the school run. This all increases the chance of an accident.

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The second reason is route familiarity. There’s a tendency to get comfortable and less cautious when making the same trip hundreds of times. In other words, your complacency increases.

Thirdly, the nature of these trips are frequently impacted by deadlines and schedules. For example, we have to get to school, work or soccer practice on time.

Now, let’s take those same reasons into the workplace.

Complacency in the Workplace

In an industrial or manufacturing setting, most injuries occur during workers’ routine tasks.

In this example from the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA), a welder injures his finger at work. He is wearing the appropriate PPE and is performing a routine task.

During the task, he uses his hand to sweep away excess slag and cuts his finger. The risk assessment concludes the importance of maintaining the same level of focus for routine and non-routine tasks.

In other words, workers spend most time completing routine tasks, leading to complacency in the workplace. Moreover, with the added pressure of production goals and deadlines the opportunity for injury increases again.

Just like the earlier driving example, the factors of familiarity and pressure increases the opportunity for injury.

Standard Operating Procedures and Job Safety Analysis

So, how do we reduce the chance of injury while performing a routine task? In the driving example, we can remind ourselves to exercise caution while driving our short commutes. The same applies at work.

Frequently reminding employees of caution when conducting routine tasks can help reduce injuries. But, over time that message becomes background noise and loses impact.

So, another method is to develop a well written standard operating procedure (SOP) and job safety analysis (JSA).

A SOP is detailed written instructions, walking workers through tasks involving hazardous materials, equipment or operations. SOPs are particularly useful for new workers who, as we know, are much more likely to have an accident.

On the other hand, a JSA breaks down potential hazards and advises the safest methods of completing a job. The benefits of completing a JSA include: identifying new hazards, promoting health and safety, encouraging communication between workers and management, and helping in accident investigations.

Routine Risks

The basis of routine risks comes from research conducted in the 1930s, when pilots were swapped from familiar airplanes to more complicated airplanes.

While they learned how to operate the new machinery, the pilots forgot standard flying procedures. As a result, there was an increase in crashes. Subsequently, Boeing created a pilot checklist.

1930s pilots forgot their flying training when transferred to new planes.

In Safety and Health Magazine, Dr. Susan L. Koen said of the research:

“It’s not the step-by-step checklist alone that produces performance reliability in aviation. Rather, it’s the recognition amongst pilots that they’re fallible. It’s the commitment to not operate from memory, because human memory is not reliable. And, most importantly, it’s the system of having two people cooperate in working through and cross-checking each critical task.”

However, effectiveness of SOP and JSA only comes when employees frequently review the correct way to perform a job. This is especially important since 50% of workers forget what they have just learned within an hour, and in a day it’s 70%.

Using LMS software for EHS training is one way to increase knowledge retention. LMS hosts a range of learning content, such as video, interactive courses and quizzes. Courses are customizable, letting you assign exactly what your workers need to know. Also, staff participation in LMS software training is a major leading indicator.

Task Analysis

Another effective method to tackle complacency in the workplace is for workers conduct a brief task analysis before completing a routine job.

This ensures employees evaluate each task each day. The analysis should be a written outline of the basic job steps to be completed, the hazards associated with those steps and how those hazards will be mitigated.

The basic idea is to have employees pause long enough to think about each job and the hazards associated with it.

Similar to JSA, a task analysis reduces the risk of injury by identifying hazards. It also places employees in their correct roles, and makes them aware of their responsibilities.

There are commercially available programs that provide a proven method to follow. Or, some companies have successfully implemented their own program using simple forms and methods developed with their particular needs in mind.

Change Complacency in the Workplace

In conclusion, it’s possible to turn around the workplace complacency associated with routine. Simple changes – scanning a room for hazards and testing footholds – make a huge difference, and may prevent accidents.

The first step is to recognize staff complacency. Next, tackle complacency with refresher safety training, preferably interactive. Then, test workers' knowledge with quizzes.

Also, it is critical to be alert of any employees falling behind training, and provide the extra support they need.

In summary, to have employees go home at the end of the day unhurt will require everyone to be intentional to not allow the danger of the routine to be a factor in an incident.

Keep Reading: Human Factors in Safety: How do stress and fatigue affect work?

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Bill Caldwell has 32 years of experience in the chemical manufacturing industry, and his role has been dedicated to health and safety for the last eighteen. Bill holds a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi State University and a Master’s Degree in Occupational Safety and Health from Columbia Southern. His current position is Senior Safety Specialist with Tronox, LLC, a major manufacturer of titanium dioxide pigment. When Bill is not working he is an avid swimmer and triathlete.