Habits and Safety

We all have habits that we follow on a daily or weekly basis. These habits have a major effect on our life. They also affect the choices we make at work. The choice to follow a safety procedure on any given day could be affected by a habit you have had for years.

Your Daily Habits

Think about the habits you follow every single day. Start with waking up. Did you hit the snooze button once or twice? Do you do this every day? What about breakfast? Did you cook in the house or did you stop at the same gas station you do every day to grab a quick bite to eat? Most likely the choices that you have made from the point you woke up today to right now in this safety meeting are the same choices you make every single day. These daily choices are your habits.

How Habits Work

According to Charles Duhigg, who is the author of the book The Power of Habit, there is a “habit loop”. The habit loop he describes in his book is a three part process. The first part of the process is the cue or trigger, the second is the routine or behavior itself, and the third is the reward.

Habits Safety TalkLet us take the example of you repeatedly hitting the snooze button and look at it as a bad habit you want to break. We will discuss the habit by looking at Duhigg’s habit loop. The trigger of this habit would be your alarm going off in the morning. While the alarm is blaring your mind tells you it is okay to hit the snooze button and continuing sleeping because in the past you have done it. Hitting the snooze button would be the behavior. The reward would be getting more sleep. To break this habit you would need to change one of the three components.

Looking at the routine first, maybe changing the location of your alarm to a location where you would have to get out of bed would work in breaking the habit. The alarm going off is still the trigger, but you have changed the routine by having to physically get out of bed making it less likely you will go back to sleep. Another option to help break the habit is experiencing a different reward which would be having more time in the morning. By not hitting the snooze button repeatedly you will experience a new reward of more time and less rush in the mornings before work. This reward alone over time may lead you to curve the habit of hitting snooze. Not all habits are easy to break, but you get the point.

Habits and Safety on the Job

Your habits may be leading you to consistently take shortcuts and not follow safety procedures. Are there certain safety procedures you always follow and others that you rarely follow? For example, you are a welder and every single day you complete your JSA, but many days there are times you choose not to lower your helmet while welding. Why do you choose to follow one safety procedure but not the other? Maybe you complete your JSA every day because you have to turn it in at the end of the day and you have learned that it gets reviewed. The reward would be not getting disciplined by a supervisor so you choose to do the JSA every day. On the other hand you choose not to lower your welding helmet because it is hard to see through and you know supervisors rarely enter your work area. The reward is that you feel it is quicker to do the task, you can see better, and you have not been injured yet. In your mind there is no consequence that will most likely come that is more negative than the reward you receive from not putting the helmet down so you continue the behavior.

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