Attitude & Behavior – Major Causes of Accidents

Originally published April 18, 2017

There are potential hazards on any construction site. In many cases, whether or not we get hurt depends on how we approach these dangers and deal with them. To a certain extent, safety is instinctive. For example, we seem to be born with a fear of falling. In other instances, safety is not instinctive. It has to be learned and practiced. Why do some people ignore the dangers they’ve been warned about, while others take heed? The differences are EXPERIENCE and ATTITUDE.

In almost any operation, accidents caused by unsafe environmental conditions or mechanical failures tend to be easiest to control, at least potentially. However, human behavior – identified as a leading cause of accidents – is harder to manage. Everyone should be aware of the human factors that can contribute to an accident.

Ignorance. This condition may stem from lack of experience, the inability to recognize a hazard or lack of job training. Don’t guess or take chances. Ask questions, and be sure you understand your job and its dangers.

Daring. This type of worker believes he can beat the odds. Maybe he can, for a while. It’s like playing Russian roulette. Will you find the bullet on the first trigger pull or on the sixth? Some jobs are so full of danger they can be likened to having more than one bullet in the cylinder. In other words, in some conditions your odds of being hurt are greater. There are enough dangers in construction without taking extra chances.

Poor Work Habits. These sometimes come with familiarity, or they may begin on the first day of the job. Don’t become complacent just because you’ve been taking shortcuts and have been getting away with it. Set an example for the younger, less experienced worker.

Haste. We are all familiar with the adage, “Haste makes waste.” It’s true. An accident is always costlier than the value of the time saved. Not only can it result in medical bills, but there may also be damage to equipment, loss of production and other “hidden costs.” Work at a steady, efficient pace and work smart.

Physical Failure or Fatigue. Exhaustion can limit your concentration, coordination, eyesight and judgment. Pace yourself and get enough sleep when you have work to do. Don’t abuse drugs or alcohol. Tests have shown the effects of these substances can last for days, even if you seem to feel fine.

Work smart and work safe. If you maintain a positive attitude toward safety, you’ll live longer and be better off in many ways.

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Complacency: Safety’s Worst Enemy

The definition of complacency: Self-satisfaction accompanied by unawareness of actual danger or deficiencies.

Complacency happens naturally. Our brains are wired to function this way. Repetitive tasks become automatic to free up our attention to other things that are new, novel or threatening. Otherwise, the simplest tasks would overwhelm us. But a construction job site is not the place for our minds to be on automatic pilot.

The Complacency Struggle

We often criticize workers for having a complacent attitude, as though this automatic action is deliberate. But complacency is usually not the result of apathy, carelessness or a personality flaw.

While an estimated 90 percent of our behavior is automatic, we are also wired for survival. The brain constantly scans the environment for signs of danger. We notice and respond to what is unique, unusual or threatening to us. Repeated exposure to situations, even those that are potentially dangerous, dulls our defense mechanism and our awareness.

Telltale signs of complacency include overlooking small details and taking shortcuts to complete routine tasks. On a work site, we put our personal safety and the safety of others in jeopardy when we do not have our eyes and mind on task. We become even more complacent when we receive positive reinforcement for a negative act, such as:

  • Not getting stopped for speeding when we were driving over the speed limit;
  • Not falling when we stood on a chair to change a light bulb;
  • Not falling when we didn’t use proper fall protection on the work site; or
  • Not being injured or killed when we didn’t follow the confined space entry procedures.

We become more lax each time we escape the consequences of exhibiting a negative behavior. On the work site, this can mean an accident resulting in serious injury or even death.

So what should you do on the work site?

  • Follow established protocols and procedures.
  • Attend safety meetings to discuss potential hazards.
  • Wear the appropriate PPE.
  • Stop and think about safety before you begin your task.
  • Practice good housekeeping.
  • Report any and all perceived or potential hazards.
  • Watch out for each other throughout the day.