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: