‘Mindful’ Health & Safety Culture: Alertness
Repetitious Jobs Can Lower Alertness Levels
As important as it is to be well trained, to have good equipment to work with and safe conditions to work in, it is also essential that workers be alert and conscious of their surroundings as they go about doing what they know how to do. The critical attentional variables are sometimes summarized in the research and practice in behavior-based/people-based safety as “mindfulness.” It is critical that people who are working safely stay mindful of what they are doing, and of the conditions in which they are working, and act consistently with that mindset.
Here’s the problem: The more practiced and experienced we become with a task, even an incredibly complex one like playing a musical instrument or operating an automobile, the less mindful we are of what we are doing and how we are doing it. It is truly like being on autopilot.
Researchers have coined the term “highway hypnosis” to describe that familiar state in which an experienced driver may cover several blocks or many miles without “paying attention” and without storing anything that happened in the last few minutes (Did I stop at that stop sign a couple of intersections back?).
One of the conceptual models of adult learning that we use says that the highest level of learning has been achieved when skills are at the level of “unconscious competence.” By that term we mean, we do something without having to stop and think about it” we automatically, reflexively “do the right thing.”
In situations where there are safety risks. One of our biggest enemies can be the complacency that comes from being thoroughly familiar with and routinizing work around potential hazards. Indeed truly effective safety training must include strategies that take our performance off autopilot and re-engage the mind. We have to check back in with “conscious,” mindful competence.