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Staying in Control of Your Safety

May 24, 2012

In a previous blog, we discussed how individual characteristics can contribute to how safe an individual is. We presented the SafetyDNA S.A.F.E. model of safety. The first characteristic in this model has to do with Staying in Control. That is, being responsible for what happens in your life and keeping control of your emotions when faced with an unsafe or potentially unsafe situation.

Do you know someone who always seems to have bad things happen to them? I personally know someone who has lost several jobs and been involved in multiple automobile accidents. To hear her tell it, her supervisors never liked her and the accidents were never her fault. She says she is just a victim of bad luck – “Why do bad things always happen to me?” I’m not saying that there isn’t such a thing as bad luck, people definitely have unexpected or surprising things happen to them. But, when someone has a long history of bad luck, it is time to look inward.

People who regularly place the blame on others or forces beyond their control have what psychologists call an external locus of control. This way of thinking can lead to “bad luck,” because these individuals don’t feel like they are in control of their lives and what happens to them. People with a strong external locus of control might see a hazard directly in front of them, but do nothing about it because they don’t think they can or should.

Imagine you were riding in a car with someone like this.  As the driver approaches a congested merge point, a car trying to merge into traffic is forcing its way in. Being the careful and attentive person that you are, you advise the driver to “watch out”. Whereby, you may get this in reply, “Oh, they see me and I have the right of way.” Of course, what if they don’t see you?  Does it really matter who has right of way if you have a chance to prevent an accident? Worse, what if the other driver is also someone who is not staying in control of their actions either? Flash forward to the crunch of metal and two drivers invariably blaming the other.  The point being, individuals with an external locus of control are less likely to take action when the situation calls for it. This can lead to accidents and injuries in a workplace.

A second way that control comes into play with regard to safety is through emotional control. Picture someone who finds themselves in a crisis situation and panics. I can picture any number of situation comedies where a character is running around screaming for help and losing control. The stress of the situation has caused them to make poor decisions, which has put them in an even bigger predicament – slapstick comedy at its best. Those situations are great comedic fodder.  However, in real life, it’s not funny at all; people can get hurt. Research shows that individuals who can maintain control of their emotions are more likely to be able to act appropriately and prevent safety incidents.

If you want to be safe, take action and stay calm. Stay in control. Next time we’ll talk about Awareness and how that can also contribute to your workplace safety.

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Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. is the Manager of Product Development at PSI. She is an expert in the design, development and validation of psychological assessment tools. An integral member of PSI since 2000, Amie has led the development of numerous competency-based assessments, including online in-baskets, job simulations and motivational fit instruments.