Dispelling the Complacency Myth
By Phil La Duke first published here. Phil says: week’s post I take a hard look at the difference between worker complacency and attention fatigue. I hope you will read the article and tell me what you think.
The latest scape goat for injuries seems to be complacency. The latest in conventional By Phil La Duke wisdom holds that people get hurt because…well…they just need to be more careful. In fact, complacency is such a convenient villain that a major safety management system provider has built a business around it. The only problem is that many of the conditions described as worker complacency is anything but the case.
The dictionary definition of complacency, “1: self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies or 2: an instance of usually unaware or uninformed self-satisfaction” which would imply that those who blame complacency for worker injuries believe that workers become over confident and therefore indifferent to the dangers around them. But according to an article on http://www.westfieldinsurance.com “complacency happens because workers, supervisors and management perform many functions on a continuous basis. Almost all jobs are repetitive in nature, and the more we repeat what we are doing, the better the chance at becoming complacent without even realizing it. Therein lays the potential danger”. It would appear that in the author’s view, complacency in the workplace is more akin to over confidence than true complacency.
Finding complacency as a root cause, in my opinion, is just another in a long line of “blame-the-injured” cop outs. If we accept the explanation offered by the article on Westfield Insurance’s website (no author is credited) complacency develops as people become indifferent to the dangers after doing repetitive tasks for hours. The answer, therefore, is to find a way to force people to pay closer attention to the tasks at hand. Unfortunately, such an approach is not necessarily supported by science.
I am not prepared to say that overconfidence and a corresponding desensitization to dangers as one spends more time in close proximity with at risk conditions isn’t a key factor in workplace injuries, but I am always a bit suspicious when safety professionals “discover” the next big injury cause. Certainly people will get complacent and over confident, but there are also other factors at play.