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Do you remember when you first learned how to drive? While familiarizing yourself with the strange and foreign concept of operating a large motor vehicle, you were likely extra cautious, and still had a great deal to learn. However, as we all got more comfortable behind the wheel and made a few minor but non-crashing mistakes, we may have had the tendency to replace good habits with ones that weren’t necessarily the most conducive to safe driving. Since we hadn’t experienced a crash yet, we kept doing the unsafe act. But before long, it became a bad habit that we accepted as safe.

On the safety pyramid, unsafe acts that haven’t caused a loss yet are at the bottom. However, we become complacent because we haven’t experienced a loss yet. But, the more times we perform that act, the potential of it becoming a loss event becomes greater and greater—whether it be a near-miss or a minor event, a recordable/reportable injury or crash, or worse yet, a fatality. As we move up the pyramid, the same act becomes more severe.

When you get comfortable with a task, you begin trekking down the path of complacency—which is one of the most dangerous mindsets. This mindset is the trigger for unperceived unsafe acts that we have simply set aside. Even if a worker or driver has performed a task numerous times without a loss event, their experience level does not eliminate the loss threat. If their experience level has resulted in complacency, a loss is inevitable. It is only a matter of when it will happen and where it will fall within the safety pyramid, all the way to the fatality. Experience does not make us invulnerable to losses.

Complacency permits our minds to wander. It causes our eyes, hands, thoughts and brain all not to be on task. We need to be finely tuned to the risk of each task we perform. Complacency gives us a false sense of security. When a worker performs an unsafe act or a manager witnesses it and the words “it’ll be alright” are heard, complacency over safety has occurred. This is also the development of shortcuts. In a safety culture, shortcuts are the fast path to a loss event.

Complacency is a false sense of security. A false sense of security can be the result of poor initial training or recurrent training. Complacency can also be caused by thinking, “it won’t happen to me,” or the individual not understanding risk as well as they think that they do. It can also be the result of a lack of proper supervision and management failing to take corrective action when an unsafe practice is observed. A company must also look at the expertise level of management. Management must not just know how to perform their job well, they must have the ability to recognize unsafe practices and know when they need to seek the guidance and experience of the company safety professional to intervene.

Complacency can be interchanged with being overconfident of one’s abilities or the abilities of their task or the equipment they are operating. Time after time, workers have the attitude that they can handle it and perform an unsafe act anyway, thereby shortcutting the safety process.

Complacency causes workers and drivers to fall into a false sense of security which causes the loss event to broadside them without notice. Too often, you will hear the person or manager make the statement “I knew better.” This is when complacency is too late to start addressing.

It’s easy to become complacent and rationalize what we're doing when it's not dangerous because the risk is low. Just like distracted driving, you don’t realize you are performing unsafe acts such as not staying in your lane, tailgating, or not recognizing hazards approaching you. This is because your brain is preoccupied with other things and is not focused on the primary task. Complacency causes us to do unsafe acts that we don’t realize we are doing. However, this can be difficult to recognize because you’re now thinking about whatever it is that is preoccupying your attention, rather than what you are supposed to be doing.

Complacency being deadly is not a myth—complacency being deadly is dead right.

  • Categorized in:
  • Transportation Safety
  • Driver Management
  • Health & Wellness