Safety Blog Sign-up

Sign Up Now

Safety Speakers

Hazard Reporting App

Monthly Safety Topic

Who Has a Poor Behavioral Safety Attitude?

In my work I am constantly meeting folks who insist that they are safe.  In fact, because of this type of behavioral safety attitude I wrote the book, I Am Safe!  Please don’t misunderstand my motive in writing this; I am constantly working on my personal behavior when it comes to safety.  Yes, I am admitting that even I sometimes make bad decisions when it comes to safe behavior.  The point is that we all can stand to improve.

Recently I was talking to a guy during a break while conducting one of my Hazard Recognition and Control Workshops.  I stopped to ask him about his bandaged finger, “What happened to your finger?”

“It wasn’t my fault, the load shifted.”

“So what were you doing?”

“Moving a block of wood that was under a pallet and the load shifted and the pallet moved and… well my finger got caught between the block and pallet.”

“So what could you have done to mitigate the risk of an injury?”

“Nothing” and he briskly walked of after excusing himself to go to the bathroom.

The fight or flight response when threatened is alive and well in all of us.  His first response was to fight.  “It wasn’t my fault, the load shifted.”  In the same instance he deflected his guilt by blaming the load that shifted.  Then he retreated to the bathroom as a flight response to the threat of having to say, “Yep, I screwed up.”

Anyone who thinks they are perfect at acting safe should really get a grip on reality.  Every one of us makes mistakes and none of us are 100% confortable admitting that we could improve our behavioral safety attitude.  The key to improving behavior is to create a safe environment where people can take responsibility without fear.  Those in leadership and the rank and file can help by not overreacting to unsafe behavior and by not ridiculing someone for sharing a mistake.

A few years ago some pilots I was hanging out with started sharing some screw-ups that almost got us killed.  I admitted that a mistake I made almost caused me to run out of gas in a plane at night.  One young, inexperienced pilot (with less than 100 hours) snorted and said, “I would never do that!”  A the time I had nearly 1000 hours and said, “Well I guess I’m not as good as you are and will have to learn from my near catastrophic mistake.”  My friend and much more experience pilot with more than 5,000 hours said, “Yep, made the same mistake early in my career and never made it again; bet you won’t either.”  My response was, “You got that right!”  The young pilot just said, “It will never happen to me.”  We (the ‘more seasoned’ pilots) looked at each other with a knowing look that we hoped so too.  The young pilot walked off and another pilot asked me, “What caused you to make that mistake?”  When I explained the situation to him and identified what had led to the unsafe behaviors, he said, “Glad you shared that, I could see myself making the same mistake.”

The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be. ~ Socrates

Pretending to be perfect can cause a person to do things that are less forgiving.  I believe this is a poor behavioral safety attitude.  As safe people we discuss our vulnerabilities instead of our invulnerabilities, which leads to our improved ability.  This in effect is a positive or good behavioral safety attitude.  Being human means it is possible to make mistakes when we interact with hazardous environments.  Take time to talk with your team today to make sure you have created an environment where mistakes can be freely discussed so that learning takes place.  You will help make your workplace one where everyone can take responsibility and learn from all mistakes, so that everyone can go home every day without injury.

Be Safe!

Carl Potter


Carl Potter is the founder of The Safety Institute, an organization made up of safety experts of various backgrounds who help clients create workplaces where it is difficult to get hurt.  In 1977 Carl began collecting his experience working for one of the largest electric utilities in the United States.  In 1993 he started his own company and shares his experience through safety presentations and programs across the country.  As an author, speaker, trainer, and consultant, Carl influences people at all level of organization to make safety a priority so everyone can go home every day without injury.  You can reach Carl at 800-259-6209 or by emailing him at


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *