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Incident Prevention Magazine

Sharon Lipinski

The Antidote to Complacency and Familiarity

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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.

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