Blind Spots: Four psychological factors that can get you injured

Consequences-aheadI read an interesting article over the weekend about a study in America that looks at the four main psychological factors that we all have, to a greater or lesser degree, that can influence our actions.

Together, these four psychological factors or “Blind Spots” are critical to maintaining one’s safety in any workplace.

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Blind Spots: Four psychological factors that can get you injured


Everyone has a blind spot when it comes to being safe. No, I am not talking about just the little area of space in your car where it’s hard to see if someone is about to hit you on the motorway, or the area behind your head.

Blind spots can pop up in lots of areas, not just our vision. Whenever we are not aware of something – whether it’s in our physical surroundings, how we behave, or our personal attitudes – we lack insight about this.

Of course when we lack insight into something that can get us hurt, it can be a blind spot for our safety.

How many of us have a blind spot when out driving?Traffic-light

Think about how you typically drive. We all have moments when we go a little (or perhaps a lot) over the speed limit, or when we speed up as the lights turn from green to amber. We know that we are not supposed to do this but we often do it anyway, even though we know it can get us or someone else hurt. So why do we do it?

In some cases, we don’t even realise we’re doing it. In other cases, we realise it, but perhaps believe that there is very little chance that we’ll get into an accident or get pulled over by the Police.  Worse still, we may not even see these behaviours as dangerous or risky at all.

Whatever the reason may be, these can all be potential blind spots that put us in harm’s way. And the more blind spots we surround ourselves with each day, the greater chance we have of injuring ourselves or others around us.

Driving is just one common example that most people can relate to, but there are many other types of situations or activities where our blind spots can emerge. For many people, the workplace is where their blind spots can multiply very quickly, putting them at much greater risk. Whether it’s someone in a factory, a warehouse, driving a vehicle, or even in an office setting, blind spots can come in many different forms.

Consider these situations:

The Managing Director of a building company?

First, consider the Managing Director/Owner of a medium sized building company. He oversees all operations over a number of sites, albeit with a site agent on each site. He spends most of his time in the office or in meetings but essentially, company safety policy is largely dictated by him.

One of the company’s sites has reported two recordable injuries in the past month. The reports seem to indicate that both of these injuries were due to the injured parties taking shortcuts and so were “Not down to anything the company did”.

As he always says, “Some accidents just can’t be prevented…” and so he believes there is little he, or the team could have done to prevent these injuries. As a result, no further action is taken to investigate the cause of the two injuries.

Three months later, an employee is almost killed and is permanently paralysed in a very similar incident.

A fitter at a chemical plantChemical-Plant

Second, we might have a fitter who does daily maintenance on various pumps and machines in a large area of a chemical plant. A highly experienced individual with plenty of experience in this type of work, he has always found work despite his tendency to lose focus and be forgetful at times. On a particularly busy day, he is feverishly trying to repair two different pumps when he gets an urgent call from a supervisor about a potential chemical spill on the level below.

Distracted, he follows the wrong lock-out tag-out procedure for a valve on one of the pumps. Shortly after, another fitter assigned to complete the repair assumes that all valves are fully disabled. As he begins to repair that valve, he is heavily sprayed with a blast of highly caustic acid at over 300 degrees, resulting in multiple second degree burns to his face.

Warehouse employee

Third, let’s say we have an employee at a warehouse who has recently started on the job. He has come from a previous job where he was fired for multiple safety violations, which he insists were very minor. In fact, he was only trying to do his job but the rules prevented him from being more productive.

Today, he needs to get a package down from a shelf that is only about a foot or two above his head. Company safety policy requires him to use an aisle stepladder at this height, but there is not one immediately available, and it would probably take a few minutes to retrieve one.

Since no one is watching, he climbs up on the lowest level shelf to reach the package. While pulling it down, he slips and falls. He strains his back and fractures a bone, resulting in over four months of lost time and workers’ compensation claims.

Delivery driverDelivery-Driver

Lastly, there is the example of a truck driver who is under a tight deadline to make a delivery to a major customer. He knows that this delivery must be on time, and he also knows that traffic is building up on the roads due to the time of day.

With this particular customer, if the delivery is not on time, he could lose his job.

Being rather impulsive by nature, he makes a last-minute decision to change his route and takes a short cut. In his haste, he fails to realise that this short cut takes him down a narrow, winding road that is not suitable for large vehicles. He crashes into a car that was coming the other way. The driver and passenger in the vehicle are both severely injured.

The Blind Spots

In each of these cases, we’ve seen a good example of a blind spot that has put an employee and/or their co-workers at greater risk of injury; either because they were not aware of something in their environment or because of how they view risk, or simply their attitudes toward safety in general.

Something in their personality, their mental make-up, or just the way they view the world, blinded them to the level of risk to which they were exposing themselves. They lacked insight at critical moments about how their behaviour could lead to an injury.

Each of these blind spots can be summarised as follows:

Out of one’s Control. In the first example, the Managing Director in charge of safety policy at the building company had the basic view in life that some things are simply outside of one’s control, and this included safety. He probably viewed the previous injuries as simply due to “the fault of the injured party” or rare, unavoidable incidents. Therefore, why take precautions against future incidents? Some people simply attribute events to luck rather than their own actions, so they don’t think they have control over things such as safety. Out of one’s Control is our first factor.

Lack of Awareness. In the second example, the fitter working in the Chemical Plant had great skills and experience, but didn’t necessarily possess the best memory or attention level. When things got busy, as they often do, he simply forgot a small – but essential – detail at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Unfortunately, his co-worker paid the price for his lack of awareness, which is our second factor.

Ignoring Rules. In our third example, our new warehouse employee displayed a basic disregard for existing safety rules. He believed that the rules did not really apply to him, and that it was more important to do the job quickly than safely. His behaviour is linked to our third factor – Ignoring Rules.

Taking Shortcuts. In our final example, the driver was impulsive, lacked patience, and took an unnecessary risk. In other words, he took a shortcut. This is the fourth and final risk factor.

The individual Safety profile

Together, these four psychological factors – Out of one’s Control, Lack of Awareness, Ignoring Rules and Taking Shortcuts – form the Four Factor S.A.F.E. Model. These four factors are critical to maintaining one’s safety in any workplace.

Based on decades of research on accidents and injuries, these four factors are usually involved when a person is injured or involved in a safety incident. These personal traits are not equally distributed across the general population, however. Human beings are all unique in terms of their psychological characteristics, so everyone possesses different levels of each factor which results in a unique profile. This is referred to as a person’s “Safety Profile.” Our Safety profile helps determine our daily level of personal exposure to risk and injury, based on our safety-related strengths and blind spots.

However, most people are not aware that they might have a blind spot when it comes to one or more of these factors, and without insight into them, even the best safety training program can still leave people exposed to injury.

By considering these factors, employers can now provide their employees with valuable insight and coaching on their personal blind spots. Individuals in any working environment then have the information and the tools to help them make true behavioural changes that reduce their daily exposure and result in safer work practices over time

If you need further information please call us on 01458 253682 or send us an email.

Training Courses

Jon Wilkins Training

Our next batch of courses will start in September after the holiday period.

These will include:

  • Liability for Accidents and Ill Health at Work
  • CDM Regulations 2015 – An Awareness Course
  • SMSTS (Site Management Safety Training Scheme)
  • Asbestos Awareness
  • Treat Health the same as Safety
  • Manual Handling
  • First Aid

But remember we are still available for running ‘In House’ courses.

If you have any questions about these courses or any other training or would like us to run a particular course for you, call Jon Wilkins of the Wilkins Safety Group on 01458 253682 or email him.

We have got a Safety Awareness update ‘In House’ course booked for a local firm of Electricians in July and 2  ‘Mercury Spillage’ courses, again ‘In House’ booked for the National Trust in September. So if you would like a bespoke course run at your place of work, why not contact us to see what we can do?

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