Get Custom Virtual Training the Way You Need It!   Learn More

Incident Prevention Magazine

Sharon Lipinski

The Biological Basis of Complacency


The adverse effects of complacency in the workplace have long been an ongoing source of concern in the safety community. What is not agreed upon is the reason for this problem. In my own experience, I have noticed that safety professionals use the term “complacency” in different ways to refer to different kinds of events.

The ability to address and solve a problem is greatly increased when the problem is properly understood, so I embarked upon a research effort to better understand this hazard. As a result, I produced a paper that explores a previously undiscussed component of complacency: basic brain design. Given how the human brain has evolved to operate, I argue that complacency is an unavoidable risk factor that can be managed but not eliminated. With this scientifically based understanding of complacency, safety professionals can more effectively prevent complacency from posing a risk to their employees’ safety.

The Symptoms of Complacency
Complacency is not an easily observable condition, and objective criteria can be elusive. Based on interviews with safety professionals, I compiled a list of anecdotal clues these professionals use to gauge the presence of complacency:

Continue reading
  66 Hits
Sharon Lipinski

The Antidote to Complacency and Familiarity


Safety managers know that when an employee has done a particular task many times, that individual can become so familiar with the action that they no longer have to pay close attention while performing the work. As they become complacent in their ability to successfully complete the task, the risk of accident increases. But familiarity is not an emotional state. It’s a physical condition. Familiarity is the byproduct of habit, and a habit is a neural pathway created in the brain through repetition.

How Habits are Formed
When the brain does something for the first time, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is activated and communicates in a loop with the striatum.

The PFC is the part of the brain that sits above the eyeballs. It’s essential in making decisions, planning ahead, focusing thoughts, paying attention, learning and considering several different yet related lines of thinking. It’s used for evaluating the future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, predicting outcomes, interpreting social cues, moderating social behavior, and determining good and bad, better and best. The PFC helps retain information while performing a task, determine what information is relevant to the task in progress and keep the objective of the task in mind, all at the same time.

Continue reading
  3466 Hits


360 Memorial Drive, Suite 10, Crystal Lake, IL 60014 | 815.459.1796 | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
© 2004 - 2021 Incident Prevention. All Rights Reserved.