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Most companies try to keep you safe. Safety training, protective equipment, guards, rules and regulations – all devoted to protecting you from injury. Then there are safety initiatives like Behavior Based Safety; a great process for helping you manage what you and your coworkers do on the job to stay safe.

What none of these worthy, preventive activities do is manage what’s going on in your head; only you can do that. What you are thinking and feeling are private events that only you have access to. Unfortunately, most people do not purposefully manage what they are thinking and feeling. It just happens and they roll with it.

Most working people are exposed to hazards and things that can go wrong in spite of everything management, engineering, equipment guards, rules, and PPE attempt to prevent. The workplace is dangerous; in many jobs, you can get killed or disabled in a few seconds. 

One problem is that, even in dangerous jobs, people get complacent. They have done something so many times they go into a zone when they start a task sequence. People go into a confined space and start thinking about their mortgage, money for their kids’ college, the argument they had with their wife this morning, or something their supervisor said that really rubbed them the wrong way.

So they are not fully focused on the dangerous situation they are in at the moment. They are not managing what is going on inside their head. Their mind is doing what it wants, going where it wants to go. This is when your head is putting you at risk. Given no restraints – no management – your freewheeling thoughts and feelings can get you killed; at work, on the road, or at home.

So the question is, “how do you manage what is going on inside your head?” It really is not that hard. In fact, once you review the three self-protection steps, you will agree.

  1. Stop Thinking – that’s right; tell your mind to shut the hell up, now! Don’t start a dangerous task or perform a dangerous job with your thoughts running amok. You can use whatever instructive words you need to halt your mind. The ones I use for myself are a bit too graphic to put on paper but they get my attention. When I am driving and I start to feel too safe, I remind myself that I could die at any moment.

    The car going at me in the other lane might cross over the center line. He might be drunk and this might be my last moment. I purposefully remind myself that I could die behind the wheel. Does it make me nervous and hyper-vigilant? You bet it does. That’s what I’m going for – hyper-vigilant, focused, and concentrating on nothing but staying alive so I can get home in one piece.
  1. Stop Distractions – Once you have stopped intrusive thoughts and feelings, do not let them reintroduce themselves into your mind. A recent study indicated that 47% of the time people performing a job are thinking about something else. Once you make “stop thinking” a habit, then you need to keep that going. Stuff seems to pop up in our heads spontaneously, so we have to get them out.

    Things that pop into our heads don’t have to be logical or related to anything that happened recently. They will occur, but you need to take charge and consciously say to yourself, “I’m not going to think about that now.” If the thought comes back, kick it to the curb again. Keep your mind on the job and the on things that can harm you.
  1. Practice Protective Vigilance – begin to examine your work environment closely and critically. Look for anything unusual that might create a problem for you. If there is something going on that you haven’t seen before, use extra caution. Ask for help or another person’s opinion. Get your supervisor to come over and talk with you about anything that bothers you. Follow your instinct; if it tells you something just isn’t right then try to find out the cause.

    Keep an eye out for what coworkers are doing as well. When you are around other people who are doing potentially dangerous tasks with equipment or doing something that could go wrong and create danger for you – stay vigilant – stay aware of your surroundings.

All of this may seem pretty simple. Of course it sounds simple, but it is not as easy as it looks. Taking charge of your thoughts and feelings when you are at work is difficult. Work is frustrating, sometimes coworkers and supervisors are frustrating, and often life outside work is frustrating as well.

You have plenty of time when you’re off the job to ruminate about things. But when you get involved in job tasks that can get you injured or killed, you need to take charge of you. It all starts when you stop thinking about other things and start thinking about protecting yourself.