When it comes to cognitive abilities and skills, we all naturally begin to develop what is called a cognitive bias over time. A cognitive bias is when we choose to ignore a baseline statistic or simply act in a default manner, without considering other options or solutions.
When we make decisions, we usually rely on assumptions based on what we have experienced previously. This allows us to make quick decisions, however, sometimes relying on these assumptions and biases can result in unsafe actions.
When it comes to developing and maintaining a safe work environment we must work to overcome some common biases and consciously consider our environment.
- Confirmation Bias: This bias refers to our tendency as humans to recall and interpret information in a way that will confirm our pre-existing beliefs. In other words, we see what we expect to see. We must work to overcome our pre-programmed assumptions and view our environments with fresh eyes.
- Default Bias: This bias refers to the way that when we are faced with a choice, we naturally choose the default, because it is easiest, and we assume that it is also the safest. One way to use this bias to your advantage in a work place is to set certain default PPE for different pieces of equipment and machinery. When you’re faced with a selection of work gloves, for example, you may not know which glove to choose. However, if you know that there are certain default gloves for each piece of equipment or designated task, then you will select the safest glove option.
- Overconfidence Bias: This bias refers to the way that we believe that people believe that they are smarter and better at tasks than they actually are. When you operate from an overconfidence bias in the workplace, you begin to believe that things like standard safety procedures don’t apply to you. You begin to ignore or skip over best practices because you think that you are the exception to the rule. This is an unsafe way to operate, because it ultimately leads to some sort of injury.
- Recency and Availability Bias: This bias refers to the way that humans give more importance to the things that happened most recently. We tend to look to the most recent, immediate past for answers to our solutions, rather than to the future. It is important to keep a broad overview of potential hazards that could arise, rather than honing in on specific, niche events.
By being more aware of these four common biases, we can work to overcome them and counteract them by not acting unconsciously. When we do that, we can begin to create safer places to work.