Complacency – A Risk in Prestart Meetings and Safety Meetings By Peter Dhu

One of the risks in any industry is that of complacency. And certainly, within the mining and resource sector where there are daily pre-start meetings, regular safety meetings and project updates, complacency can become a risk. The Cambridge Dictionary defines complacency as “a feeling of calm satisfaction with your own abilities or situation that prevents you from trying harder”. 

So complacency is when you have a prestart meeting and you say something that is important and yet it has little impact on anyone. This is because everyone has heard it before, it doesn’t create any engagement, or the message does not stimulate our brains. A classic example at the end of a prestart meeting is to say, “stay safe and look after your mates”.  It is then routinely said at every subsequent prestart meeting. Complacency is when messaging becomes ho-hum, and people zone out or glaze over when they hear it.

I have done a lot of work over the past 12 years with the mining and resource sector, and they all have their standard safety call to action and slogans that are incorporated into their culture and their values. Examples of these calls to action include 

  • “If you see it, you own it” – this is a reference to the fact that if you see anything that looks unsafe or not quite right, you are responsible for sorting it out
  • “Safety first” – this is a reference to the fact that safety is the number one priority
  • “Stay safe and look after your mates” – this is referring to working safely yourself, and looking after your colleague’s safety as well
  • “All lives matter, including yours” – this is a reminder that the mining sector can be a dangerous place
  • “Do zero harm” – this is the principle that we should be able to work safely with no accidents or workplace injuries
  • “Safety starts with me” – this amplifies the fact that you are responsible for your own safety

These are important safety messages and if they are said time and time again, they may lose their value and their impact could be diluted as complacency sets in.

One way to avoid complacency in your messaging at safety meetings is to grab people’s attention, surprise them and create some cognitive dissonance. That is, say something that creates some conflict or discomfort in your listener’s mind. And as they walk out of the meeting, they are still thinking about the message you just gave. 

An example of this surprise was when I saw a 59km/hour road sign. I was on a bus on a mine site and the road speed changed from 80km/hour to 59 km/hour. The 59 km/hour sign jumped out at me, made me take notice and literally made me say “What The heck”. I spoke to some of the workers when I got into camp, and they said yes it gets people’s attention. The speed is actually 60 km/hour, but the 59 km/hour sign catches people attention and they slow down to 60km/hour. 

Some creative ways that we can make a messaging standout and help us to create surprise or cognitive dissonance is to:

  • Be contentious
  • Be confronting
  • Create curiosity
  • Ask a controversial question
  • Be humorous (if you are good at humour)
  • Be challenging

One of the most impactful and memorable safety meetings that I have ever attended, was when a plastic surgeon showed a slide of a badly damaged hand, partially degloved of skin. This was the result of someone wearing jewellery which caused the hand to get caught in some equipment. It was confronting, eye-opening, a little shocking and very memorable. He hadn’t even spoken yet. He then stopped showing the slide, spoke about his work repairing injured hands and limbs, many from industrial accidents and emphasised the importance of not being complacent when it comes to hand safety. He then ended by again showing another confronting image. To this day I still remember that image and I take my Jewellery off when going to mine sites, even though I am only training. 

So can I encourage everyone to ensure their messaging does not become complacent? Avoid ticking box compliance, where you just go through the motions, not really caring if your message sticks or has an impact or not. Do not let complacency reduce the impact of your core safety messages.

If you want to learn how to maximise your message and avoid complacency, I’m running a workshop on Winning Presentation Skills in Perth on 12 November and in Port Hedland on 29 November.

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