A Cognitive Approach to Safety

The human brain is fascinating. The way humans think, form connections, make decisions and analyze consequences has been studied since researchers and scientists have had the ability to do so. Gaining a better understanding of cognition, or the way workers acquire knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and senses, could help you to better protect your employees through a different approach to their safety training.

In an article for this issue, Kyle Krueger explains the phenomenon of “recency bias.” Basically, recency bias is a cognitive bias that favors recent events over historic ones. How does this impact your view on safety? Well, if you think about how a worker interacts with safety equipment, you might begin to see the connection.

Let’s think together about a common construction site. What are some of the hazards you might encounter? A few might be falls from height, hearing damage, slips, trips and falls, puncture wounds or struck-by incidents. If workers are at a great height, they are asked to wear proper PPE to keep them from falling and injuring themselves, right?

Well, let’s say a worker has gone through extensive training on how to wear his/her fall protection equipment and have worked on the job—without incident—for nearly a year now. Better yet, there hasn’t been any falls from heights on this jobsite since the worker started. This is great, right?

Yes—it is great, but without reinforced training and toolbox talks to remind employees why their fall protection is so crucial to their safety, they might start to think that they may not need it. Despite the fact the worker knows and understands that falls could happen without proper use of their fall protection, recent events have “proven” to them that this gear might be extraneous and cumbersome for no reason at all.

Therefore, that is how you get into incidents where workers might ease up on how the harness is put on, or maybe they stop wearing them when they believe they just need to complete a task “really quick.”

Understanding how the brain works can help safety professionals anticipate the moments when workers may become careless with safety procedures. Pinpointing these moments and dialing in on them with increased training and impromptu toolbox talks that evoke an emotional response can help ensure that recency bias does not set in. You want workers to remember that falls are common and if not properly prevented, it is not a matter of if—it’s a matter of when it happens to you.

This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Sydny Shepard is the Editor of Occupational Health & Safety.

Download Center

  • Safety Metrics Guide

    Is your company leveraging its safety data and analytics to maintain a safe workplace? With so much data available, where do you start? This downloadable guide will give you insight on helpful key performance indicators (KPIs) you should track for your safety program.

  • Job Hazard Analysis Guide

    This guide includes details on how to conduct a thorough Job Hazard Analysis, and it's based directly on an OSHA publication for conducting JHAs. Learn how to identify potential hazards associated with each task of a job and set controls to mitigate hazard risks.

  • A Guide to Practicing “New Safety”

    Learn from safety professionals from around the world as they share their perspectives on various “new views” of safety, including Safety Differently, Safety-II, No Safety, Human and Organizational Performance (HOP), Resilience Engineering, and more in this helpful guide.

  • Lone Worker Safety Guide

    As organizations digitalize and remote operations become more commonplace, the number of lone workers is on the rise. These employees are at increased risk for unaddressed workplace accidents or emergencies. This guide was created to help employers better understand common lone worker risks and solutions for lone worker risk mitigation and incident prevention.

  • EHS Software Buyer's Guide

    Learn the keys to staying organized, staying sharp, and staying one step ahead on all things safety. This buyer’s guide is designed for you to use in your search for the safety management solution that best suits your company’s needs.

  • Vector Solutions

Featured Whitepaper

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - May 2022

    May 2022


      How Wearable Technology is Transforming Safety and the Industrial Workplace
      Five Tips to Improve Safety in Confined Spaces
      Monitor for Asbestos to Help Save Lives
      Fall Protection Can Be Surprising
    View This Issue