Technology (smart phone cameras) and social media (YouTube) provide all the evidence we need that people behave unsafely at home. Of course, it is easy to reassure ourselves that we would never do the things we see in viral videos, but how many of us can recall near misses or accidents at home where there was potential for serious harm? Speaking from personal experience, even those of us highly attuned to safety in the workplace are not immune to hazards at home.
Safety belongs on both sides of the work-life equation
We often think about our work life and our home life as two very distinct spheres. In fact, the concept of “work-life balance”, which reinforces this divide between our job on one side and our family, personal interests and leisure activities on the other, has permeated discussions about living a healthy, fulfilling life. But there is one area where continuity between our work and leisure behaviors is essential to our overall satisfaction and happiness - indeed, to our health - and that is safety.
Risk perception on holiday at home
Although my career keeps me immersed in both the theory and practice of workplace safety, I have experienced accidents in my free time that could have had devastating consequences. I’ll share two specific instances that you may be able to relate to. The first occurred while I was gardening, which is generally praised as a “healthy” hobby, good for calming the mind and exercising the body. On this particular day, however, I had set out to stake the blueberry bushes, and, in addition to the wooden stakes, was armed with a 40-pound hammer and a ladder. Maybe I had other engagements that afternoon, or other gardening chores to complete, whatever the immediate reason, I made the decision to “stabilize” the ladder by placing flat wooden panels on the ground under its base. I climbed up, hammer in hand, and no sooner had I begun to drive the stakes into the ground, the ladder slipped and I tumbled backwards, legs entangled in the rungs. I came away severely scraped, bruised and bloodied, and while this was painful, it was a much better outcome than many I can imagine.
A second incident happened in the course of doing a good deed. I had promised to install my father’s automatic garage door opener and so found myself drilling upwards into a metal bar…without safety glasses. Fortunately, the ophthalmologist was able to extract the metal splinter lodged in my eye, and no further damage was done. But why had I neglected to take what I knew to be a necessary safety precaution? Perhaps I had forgotten my safety glasses at home, perhaps my father’s were ill fitting, perhaps I was simply too lazy to descend the ladder, find them and put them on. Whatever my excuse, inconvenience or discomfort, it would not have justified the loss or impairment of sight in one eye.
If more examples are required, they can be found in abundance on YouTube, compliments of the “smart phone zombies” we are all familiar with. And while we may laugh at others’ misadventures, we must also be aware that the consequences are not always amusing and the situations are disturbingly familiar. People are distracted, negligent, hurried or otherwise safety-impaired while cleaning, cooking, lifting, carrying or pursuing their favourite hobby. This kind of behavior at home can impede our pursuit of health, happiness and an enjoyable life, not to mention radically impair our performance at work.
Which brings us back to the other half of the “work-life balance” formula. Companies make considerable effort to train their workforce in order to keep them safe. When done effectively, this training is less an exercise in compliance and more about effectively protecting people from harm - and that, in turn, requires discussion about why individuals make the choices they do. Our workshop “Understanding and Influencing Behavior” speaks specifically to this issue, and its lessons can be extrapolated across contexts. At home we may be at times distracted, negligent and hurried, but we also generally feel safe, although statistics on household injuries tell quite a different story about the potential for harm that surrounds us. At work we internalize habits around PPE, we receive training to help us see risks and adapt behaviors, and then we shed both the equipment and the attitude as soon as we leave the worksite. If you see yourself, your colleagues or employees reflected in these contradictory behavior patterns, I urge you to consider how we can promote continuity and consistency around safety behaviors so that risk perception and safe habits become second nature at work and at home.
DEKRA Organisational Reliability is a behavioral change consultancy. Working in collaboration with our clients, our approach is to influence the safety culture with the aim of ‘making a difference’. We deliver the skills, methods, and motivation to change leadership attitudes, behaviors and decision-making among employees. Measurable sustainable improvement of safety outcomes is our goal. We are a service unit of DEKRA SE, a global leader in safety since 1925 with over 39,000 employees in 50 countries. For more information, visit