By Randy Logsdon
It was late in the ballgame, the home team was up by a single run and their opponents were batting. With one out, the batter connected with a curve ball and drove the ball between second and third base. The shortstop collected the ball easily on one hop, planted and threw a bullet to the first baseman. The batter was out easily – two outs. Sounds good, but the broadcast crew in the radio booth saw it differently.
“He’s going to hear it from the manager between innings!” declared the color commentator.
“I should say so,” confirmed the play-by-play announcer. “What was he thinking?”
The color analyst continued. “It’s those mental mistakes that create opportunities for the opposition. He simply forgot that there was a runner on first. That was an easy double play. We could have been out of the inning, and now the number-four hitter is coming up to bat with a runner in scoring position. This guy’s got a batting average of .340 with 27 home runs. You’ve got to have your head in this game. As a player, you just have to maintain that mental discipline. Yeah, he’s going to hear it from the manager alright.”
We see and hear it a lot in sports. The mental part of the game is as important as skilled performance. Athletes have various routines, but the best ones (the ones we admire) expend a lot of effort preparing mentally for their tasks. From understanding the overall game plan to knowing the playbook; from knowing your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses to recognizing a change on the field; the mental aspect of the game can make or break a good team. That mental conditioning and realization are vitally important in all we do, including performing our jobs at work.
There are a number of ways to approach accident prevention. Larry Wilson researched this mental aspect of work and how mental factors can affect the risk of injury. He later developed a systematic application based on his findings and markets it under the name SafeStart. Wilson discovered and classified four common and recognizable mental states that can lead to errors (work errors, not baseball errors) that, in turn, lead to increased risk of injury. Recognizing and then acting on these four mental states can have a profound effect on risk.
First, it’s important for each individual worker to know how to recognize these mental states – self-evaluation. We’ve all experienced them – often in retrospect. We have to learn to recognize these emotions in ourselves before we reach that critical moment where they can contribute to errors that affect safety.
Second, when we do recognize the presence of one of these mental states, we have to be prepared to take the necessary steps that will neutralize the effects. We must apply a strategy that will bring us back into a safe mental state. Imagine if those strategies were written into our workplace playbook.
From a different perspective, it is also important to watch, listen, and learn about the mental state of others – peer-evaluation. Either as a supervisor, or a coworker, we have to understand that any one of the four mental states is, in essence, an “accident waiting to happen.”
Recognizing the signs, we have an opportunity to intercede and prevent. The recognition skills may be different and the neutralizing strategies may differ from those applied in self-evaluation.
So I’ve introduced two approaches to workplace mental preparation/mental discipline. It’s up to you if you wish to pursue the concept in depth. Each approach can be effective in reducing the risk of injury. Together, the possibilities are endless.