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Lose Control of Your Emotions, Lose Control of Your Safety

February 12, 2014

In 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee, witnesses reported seeing a car cut off a commercial truck on a heavy-traffic freeway.  Seemingly angered by this, the truck driver began honking his horn at the car and following it at a close distance.  Suddenly, the cars ahead sharply hit their brakes, but the truck driver was not able to stop in time, ramming the back of the car and causing it to crash into the center wall.  Tragically, both people in the car - a young mother and her four year old daughter - were killed on impact.  The truck driver was later charged with manslaughter and the trucking company was sued by the victims’ family for an undisclosed amount. 

In last week’s discussion, I described how the extent to which a person believes they have control over what happens to them is one key part of the factor called “Stays in Control,” the first factor in the Select International S.A.F.E. Model.  Staying in Control is critical to personal safety.  But there is more to it than simply believing you can control your safety.  The other part of this factor is being able to control your emotions - particularly when you are under pressure.

Think about all the various positive and negative events that might occur throughout your typical day – from getting stuck in traffic, to getting a compliment from someone at work, to realizing you forgot about an important meeting that you needed time to prepare for.  We all experience a wide range of emotions in response to these events, and these emotions can be positive, negative, or downright stressful.  And for an individual who works in a job with many risks and hazards, their emotional reactions to these events can have a powerful effect on their safety behavior, such as in the unfortunate event I previously described.

Although the truck driver did not intend to hit the car, his inability to manage his emotions led him to disregard road laws and his job safety training, placing everyone around him in danger.  Had he maintained control of his emotions, it is unlikely he would have displayed such reckless and at-risk behavior, and this fatal crash may not have occurred.  While we all know the term “road rage” and how anyone can potentially be pushed to the point where they display this type of behavior, some people are far more susceptible to it because their SafetyDNA profile is low on the Stays in Control factor.  As a result, they struggle to keep their emotions in check and avoid risks when they are under pressure.185866482

In order to improve one’s personal safety, it is important for people to know their emotional and behavioral tendencies in stressful situations, and be aware of the fact that they may lose control emotionally under certain conditions.  Many people are simply not aware that this is in their nature and thus cannot make the link between this part of their SafetyDNA and their behavior.  By gaining insight into one’s ability to Stay in Control, and developing the right type of thought processes and behaviors in response to stress, people can learn to effectively manage their emotions while on the job.  Effectively managing your emotions can include:

  • Understanding and recognizing your emotions (e.g., anger, anxiety, fear) when they arise
  • Knowing the types of situations and stressors that can trigger your emotions
  • Monitoring your emotions to keep risky impulses in check
  • Being aware of how your emotions affect your risk perception and behavior
  • Not letting emotions interfere with performing your job safely at all times

Organizational research shows that employees can be trained to better control their emotions at work, so programs aimed at improving this personal safety factor can help workers better recognize and understand their emotions, avoid becoming distracted by their emotions, and maintain focus safe work practices, regardless of the situation.  Ultimately, workers who can effectively Stay in Control will be less likely to place themselves and others in danger, consequently reducing exposure and safety incidents in the workplace.

Our Guest Blogger this week is Craig White, a doctoral student in the industrial/organizational psychology program at Texas A&M University. 

His research domains include selection test development, training, and team processes and performance.  He has six years of research experience at Tier-One universities (Texas A&M University, University of Houston, Rice University), and has been closely involved in applied safety and health research projects at the Michael E. DeBakey VAMC Health Services Research and Development CoE in Houston, TX.  He is also a contract safety services consultant for Select International.

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