THE MODERN DAY SAFETY PROBLEM
Not just about the hazard, the system or conscious decisions.
Most incidents don’t happen because the person didn’t know about the hazard, or wasn’t trained, or made an “unsafe” conscious decision. Typically, they happen because the person wasn’t paying attention to what could hurt them at the time, and as a result, came into contact with it.
When there is an incident, we tend to investigate until we find something to “fix”. That is usually a hazard, a system deficiency or a conscious decision that could have been safer. Up until 10 years ago, we thought that was all there was. Back then, it was easy to find something to fix. Not so much these days.
Today, many incidents involve inattention.
A 'lack of thinking' rather than 'bad thinking'
Most of us are aware of incidents where the first question that popped into our head was “what were they thinking?”
Not a bad question, but there is a better one: “what were they NOT thinking about?”
Most people think what we pay attention to is based on risk, or the amount of hazardous energy, or what's important to us. Sometimes that is true, but not as often as we think.
What we pay attention to the most is what we have conditioned ourselves to pay attention to through repetition. And that is not always the safest. Common everyday examples include people looking at a screen while walking or driving.
Most incidents are not about “bad thinking” but rather a “lack of thinking” … about what can hurt us.
The Causes of Inattention
Brain science research helped us unravel why people do what they do.
We now know 95% of our behaviour originates in the subconscious.
As such, we do many things in “Autopilot”. In other words, familiar tasks can often be done without much conscious thought and we often don’t remember doing it because we weren’t paying attention to it at the time.
This is why we return to check if we have locked the car or turned the house alarm on after leaving.
Stress and tiredness also result in inattention. The main problem is that most of the time we are inattentive, there is no incident so we repeat the inattention and we end up with it in our skills and habits. This takes place without us even knowing about it, making it a huge blind spot for most people.
What we know from brain science is that people are not conditioned to look for inattention or its causes,
so they don’t see it. And what they do not see, they cannot avoid, resulting in many incidents.