Regardless of how much workplace safety training an organization has in place for employees, there remains some element of risk because there is simply no way to control for every possible outcome.
A large part of this comes down to employee actions. Employees, even without realizing it, may demonstrate a tolerance for risk that influences the chances of something bad happening. When you know what these risk tolerance factors are, it may be easier to correct for them through training and education.
Common Risk Tolerance Factors
Risk tolerance factors can generally be considered on a spectrum. Their influence may be weaker or stronger from one person to another. And not every employee will be affected by all of these factors. Here are the most common ones to be aware of.
- Overconfidence: When you have a lot of faith in your knowledge or abilities to complete a job, you may be less likely to be looking out for potential hazards. As an example, think about the last time you made a sandwich; how concerned were you about the potential for cutting yourself when you picked up the knife to cut it in half?
- Repetition: It can be hard to see the challenges inherent in carrying out tasks you’ve performed many times before without incident. If you’ve climbed a ladder safely 100 times, you may not be thinking that the 101st time is the one where you’ll miss a step and fall.
- Confirmation bias: Your observations support your point of view, and it can be hard to see things that are in conflict with that.
- Potential consequences: If the possible harm you face is serious, such as losing your job, you may be more likely to follow safety guidelines. If you don’t see the potential for serious consequences, you may be more likely to take risks.
Potential benefits: Situations that promise a gain in time, money, productivity or even recognition can sway you from following workplace safety procedures.
- Observation: Your risk tolerance may reflect how you see employees you look up to or respect address potential risk. You may think to yourself, if they’re okay with this – whether it’s good or bad – it must be okay.
- Trust in your machinery: Whether it’s tools or equipment, having too much confidence that a piece of machinery that’s always worked as expected will continue to work as expected can lead to a false sense of security.
- Trust in your personal protective equipment: Wearing PPE can lead you to take risks you wouldn’t otherwise entertain because you have confidence that your gear will shield you from adverse experiences.
- Your previous personal experiences: You may take workplace safety more seriously because you know first-hand that something bad can happen or you think nothing bad can happen because a workplace safety incident has never affected someone you know.
- Not understanding the potential hazard: If you don’t know how seriously you could be harmed when something goes wrong, it’s easy to think, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
To overcome risk factors, these influences should be considered when developing employee education and training. Encourage practices that foster self-reflection and examination, even when carrying out tasks that an employee has completed hundreds of times. Before undertaking a task, employees should consider the worst-case scenario and what actions they can take to prevent that worst-case scenario from happening.