Battling Distractions, Peer Pressure and Complacency

In America, there are 382.2 million people, of which 164.4 million are employees in a field of labor, meaning they are at an increased risk of injury or fatality due to the nature of their work. These employees are humans with lives, spouses and children. They have anxieties, worries and dreams. They deal with co-workers and quotas.

It is important to take a moment to humanize the workforce when thinking about occupational safety as workers deal with inherently human issues such as distractions, peer pressure and complacency daily. In a recent conversation with a safety professional, he told me that during more than 100 interviews he had conducted after an injury on a worksite, the injured worker almost always said the same two things. First, “I know I shouldn’t have done that.” And second, “But we always do it like that.”

What does this tell us about the mindset employees are in when they come to work? It tells us that these employees understand the risks and hazards associated with their jobs. They know that the corners they are cutting could lead to injury—or worse, a fatality on the job—but that there are external factors keeping them from completing tasks safely.

These external factors can be distractions from their life outside of work or peer pressure from co-workers to quickly finish tasks. This is something that often happens in the workplace—a procedure is seen to be too long, too monotonous of a task and shortcuts are created to speed up the process.

Workers believe this new, somewhat speedier way of doing the task is the way to work “smarter” and not “harder.” Any worker that comes in trying to complete the task in the “safe” way, might then be peer pressured by those around them to complete the task using the shortcut so they can finish early, or meet their quotas.

What these employees might not realize, however, is that the longer, more monotonous process was created to safeguard them from hazards that could put them in harm’s way. OSH professionals are looking out for the safety and health of employees first and foremost. This can often collide with the C-Suite’s idea of how fast employees should be moving, or how much should be getting done in a particular time frame.

It is important to factor in safety when judging or timing for productivity or performance. Make sure safety has a seat at the table to help manage expectations of higher outputs. Remember, injuries and fatalities cost more time and money than having employees work safely in the first place.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Sydny Shepard is the former editor of Occupational Health & Safety.

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