By: Carl Dixon
There may be those of you who wonder what the connection is between the theme of your workplace safety discussion and the story of my less successful car ride in Australia. “Great story,” you might think, “but how’s it related?”
There are several possible connections I could make. Maybe it’s the toll a severe accident can take on your life and on the lives of those around you. Maybe it’s the lesson that the body just wants to be well and to heal if you give it a chance; you could get that from my story. Then there’s the importance of perseverance and positive thinking. We can always use a reminder about that.
The analogy I would draw between workplace safety and my car crash is the importance of staying alert when you change your environment or your environment changes around you. The procedures and habits that lead to an outstanding workplace safety record don’t come about by chance. It isn’t by luck that you have successful outcomes; work and repetition gets us there. It’s a reverse way of thinking. In the pursuit of safety, success is when nothing happens.
Humans are creatures of habit. We observe, think, and adapt, and then we like things to stay that way. In groups or organizations policies are developed either in response to, or in anticipation of, problems. Good habits are built through repetition of the good policies. You don’t avoid accidents by accident.
Life would be very different if we could just navigate the world in random, unthinking movements without worrying about consequences. There’d be no need for laws. There’d be no need for speed limits or lane markers or dividers on the highway. You wouldn’t have to look before you step off the sidewalk. You could throw television sets out the hotel window and not worry who’s below. “Livin’ like a rock star”; ever notice how many of them don’t survive?
We wouldn’t need safety belts in cars. We could just step right out of a moving vehicle if there were no consequences for disregarding safety. There are consequences though, for random, ill-considered actions; actions that fall outside the normal, expected routines. We run into the immutable laws of physics and probability. That’s why throughout our life we get training for safe conduct in all kinds of situations. It’s drilled in over and over, until it becomes unthinking habit. Good habits protect us; poor habits or lapsed habits put us at risk.
But… what happens if the game changes? When there’s a shift in your environment or you enter a new environment? Habit can then be a problem. Unthinking rote behaviours can lead you into danger because conditions have changed and you aren’t responding with new behaviours.
I’m a survivor of exactly that scenario. Thirty years of driving in North America trained me in one deep- rooted driving habit. When I entered a new driving environment, Australia, my clear thinking mostly kept me alert to the changed conditions around me.
They drive on the other side of the road there. It was easy to see that driving the same way I do at home would quickly get me into trouble.
On one critical night though, my alertness was lessened by my emotions. I was beating myself up for being late, blaming myself for spoiling our nice evening because “I’m so dumb.” Negative self-talk. You’ve probably done it. What a nasty, unhelpful habit. It’s like we think we’ve got to punish ourselves before someone else does. Crazy. Those thoughts just distracted me and blocked my alertness to the danger in my changed environment. For about one minute I forgot where I was, drove on the North American side of the road and WHAM! I
ran head-on into the immutable laws of physics and probability.
The point is, change comes at us all the time in this life in many forms, faster and faster. Let’s pay attention and keep our eyes open as things change. Be alert to the potential for hazards, for our own sake and for the sake of those who love us.
Most of all, if something does knock us down, please remember that we all have it in us to get up off the mat and get back into this wonderful life.
Focus on what you still have, not on what you’ve lost. Be indomitable. Thank you.
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