28 April 2016
How mindfulness can help improve your business and prevent accident
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a mental state by which you focus your awareness on the present moment, appreciating your feelings, thoughts and senses. The advantage of mindfulness is that by being aware of the present moment and not forcing issues or hiding from them, you allow yourself space to respond in new, different ways to situations; potentially making better choices.
Mindfulness is a more ‘modern’ practice in stress reduction and has its origins in Buddhism. Being around for thousands of years this practice is used by millions of people around the world, but recently has also been used within a group of veterinary practices which led to a profound impact on the safety, wellbeing and productivity of the organisation.
Is there a link between mindfulness and safety performance?
If you analyse accidents, the majority of them occur because an individual made the wrong choice for that given situation. Often they may not be the person at the ‘sharp end’. For example, a buyer could have procured the wrong ladder because he was busy and just ordered the first ladder he saw. In turn, it may not have conformed to standard and could later culminate in an employee injury because the ladder could not withstand the load. Unfortunately, people at the sharp end also get hurt through making wrong choices. An employee could decide to not undertake a risk assessment because they don’t have time. This could lead to missing a key hazard in an activity and being injured of varying degrees. For example, not assessing that a roof they are due to access has fragile roof lights and therefore not implementing control measures, such as accessing the roof from below instead, hence they fall through the roof light.
Our Director of Health & Safety, Lee Mills’, view on bringing mindfulness to the forefront of safety
“Psychologists use mindfulness with heart attack patients by getting them to take a bite of a piece of fruit and focus on the sound, the texture, the taste and the smell of that individual bite as they eat it. This has the effect of slowing down thinking and relaxing the individual.
Whilst we all can’t start eating fruit in this manner, the method of becoming ‘in the moment’ from a safety perspective is to watch an employee, with their knowledge, undertake a task. This has the effect of making the employee work ‘in the moment’.
To explain, when we first learn to drive you will remember that after the lesson you were drained mentally. This is because you are learning consciously. After a while, driving becomes habitual and is easier on the mind, because once it becomes habitual, you are driving subconsciously as opposed to consciously.
At work, we behave in a similar manner. When we learn a new task, we learn consciously, but later on it becomes habitual and subconscious. This is great because, if we are taught to do a task safely from the start it then becomes habitual and you will continue to do that task safely. However, if you are initially taught the unsafe method, this habit is then unsafe and an accident will more likely occur.
Have someone watch you doing a task does two things. It makes you work consciously and think about what you do and secondly, it enables the observer to analyse whether that method of working is the safest.
Think about driving again, what happens to your driving when a Police car appears in your rear view mirror? You suddenly start to think about your speed, your positioning on the road, you are conscious of indicating correctly. Exactly the same thing happens when someone watches you at work.
The challenge is to spot the differences when you work in the moment (being watched) as opposed to work subconsciously (habitually). These differences either highlight deficiencies in the employees’ working practices (where safe habits have ‘crept’ into unsafe habits) or where the risk assessment/safe system of work was not correct in the first place and the employee has consciously made a ‘safer’ modification.
This differences need to be spotted and acted upon – that’s the point when you really start to make the workplace safer. Hence, the feedback loop is critical to the success of this technique.”
* The World Day for Safety and Health at Work is observed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) since 2003.
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