Dissatisfaction with your work and/or lack of motivation, missing steps in work processes, and frequent near-misses or incidents are telltale signs, according to the National Safety Council (NSC).
Have you experienced any of those symptoms? Complacency — a feeling of calm satisfaction with your abilities or situation that prevents you from trying harder — is often a focal point when discussing workplace safety but what does it mean?
This idea of self-satisfaction is often experienced by veterans in our industries — folks who, perhaps, are highly experienced, yet complacent about hazards. They are not unaware of the risk but are more likely to accept these risks without taking the proper time to address known hazards because they have been doing the work for so long.
The NSC notes in one of its 5-Minute Safety Talks, “Complacency isn’t just about losing focus on the task at hand, it can also come up in terms of expectations. If you work closely with a co-worker or team and you get used to their performance, you might expect that same performance each time and neglect to check in on them. Those expectations can create risks if they cause you to overlook the signs of complacency in your co-workers.”
The Consequences of Complacency
What are the results of complacency in the workplace?
Lost work time. Preventable injuries, such as a rolled ankle from taking the shorter, risker walking path, could cost time off for healing.
Lost mobility or health. That log you just lifted by yourself will take a toll on your body in the long run. And when you absolutely must perform a task by yourself, remember to always use proper lifting techniques.
Lost family time. Someone loves you — they do not deserve to suffer for your mistakes or complacency.
Lost production. The few moments you gain with a shortcut will eventually cost everyone in the long run.
Permanent disability. Laziness is a choice, not a disease or disability. Don’t chance spending the remainder of your life in a wheelchair or missing an extremity by being complacent.
Death. This is certainly the absolute worst-case scenario but unfortunately, too many families have experienced this reality. Somewhere, a family is celebrating a birthday, wedding, or graduation without a loved one. Don’t let it be your family.
To conquer complacency — whether it’s in the field, on the road, or in the office — we need to go back to the basics and look at the tasks we perform with repetition, daily. Chances are, we aren’t taking the same precautions as when we first learned the task. Think back to the first few times you did that specific task; did you follow safety procedures more consistently?
Other ways to combat complacency can be done by auditing yourself — or better yet — having a coworker audit your performance regularly. Having someone else provide feedback can paint a clear picture of where you might be taking chances and set a path for improvement.
Look for instances where you allow yourself to cut corners, leaving yourself open to increased risk. Hold yourself and others around you accountable to do the right thing the right way every time.
Discuss with your teams what risks you are leaving yourselves exposed to and hold each other accountable each time.
Occupational Health & Safety suggests curbing complacency will wellness, stating, “It’s hard to deny the connection between mental health and safety. Incidents often occur when workers are mentally checked out and not paying attention to their surroundings.”
Another method used to combat complacency is employee engagement, according to the NSC, which offers a few steps to regain focus to reduce risks.
- Set yourself up for success at work by consciously focusing on your tasks
- Recognize and dismiss distractions when they come up
- Look for improvements in your routine or the way you approach your tasks
- If possible, consider changing some elements of your schedule for the day; the change could help you focus and keep you from falling into “auto-pilot” mode
- Make safety a part of your routine by including co-workers in safety talks and inspections
- Encourage your co-workers to talk through the steps of a task with you, even if you have lots of experience working together
- Offer to help your co-workers with a task, and point out any apparent risks so they aren’t overlooked
Don’t be afraid to implement one or more of these strategies into your daily routine. Make a deliberate effort to take steps for eliminating worksite hazards. Once a positive action is repeated over and over, it will become automatic. Remember, complacency kills, and you are the cure.