Mindfulness Training for Improved Safety Performance
...research has demonstrated that mindful people tend to make more accurate judgements, display high problem-solving abilities, and have high task performance.1
Everything in this book has emphasised how mindfulness points the way to improved health and safety outcomes. This applies whether we are talking about minimising distractions and concentrating better, working more productively with less conflict, focusing on the right organisational priorities for health and wellbeing, or challenging societal norms. As previously mentioned, compelling brain scan evidence highlights grey matter growth (neuronal cell bodies and synapses) in critical areas after mindfulness training.2 It works because the brain can be taught to create new neural pathways. In the safety domain, a greater degree of mindfulness is likely to translate into fewer workplace accidents and injuries. Later on in this chapter, we will be looking at mindfulness training interventions that have positively impacted on safety performance. Even during the writing of this book, new research has been further establishing the significant relationship between mindfulness and safety performance. One study of a large petroleum distribution company, which surveyed 706 employees, concluded that mindfulness is an important predictor of safety behaviours.3 Mindfulness was positively correlated with safety participation and safety compliance, whilst being negatively correlated with workplace injuries.
Unlike a relatively fixed personality trait, mindfulness is far more malleable and can be developed to improve safety performance. This presents exciting new opportunities for safety-focused organisations with a keen eye on results and the bottom line. Much of the failure of conventional training courses stems from their inability to change entrenched habits. To train the mind to perform at a higher level, self- awareness and personal experience must be given leading roles. This creates the groundwork for both attitude and habit change, essentially ‘unfreezing’ the mind.
It is here that effective mindfulness training can make a huge difference, helping to release people from unsafe habits and behaviours often performed on autopilot. With the right psychological tools to tackle habits, any changes and new ways of working tend to be more permanent - in turn, this leads to higher performance and safer workplaces.
ARROWS training is mindfulness based and has been specifically designed to enhance performance and create safer, healthier workplaces. Uniquely, it takes the key principles and practices from mindfulness and tailors them for safety environments, drawing on a wealth of research over the last few decades. The training manual, exercises, practices, and recordings provide a standardised way of increasing safety performance in six key areas known to be integral to mindfulness practice. Based on the ‘gold standard’ of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training, it has been developed in close partnership with safety-focused transport, logistics and construction companies.
Attention and Concentration
Attention has been recognised as the key component of mindfulness in the research.4 The mind can be trained to better focus its attention and improve concentration levels in safety environments. By the same token, we can learn to notice when our minds becomes distracted and take remedial action sooner. These skills underpin safe behaviours and help prevent incidents.
People can be trained to be more alert to the health and safety risks in their surroundings. Paying attention to what is happening in the moment involves processing internal stimuli (such as thoughts and perceptions), and the external stimuli present in operational environments.5 Learning to process both kinds of stimuli more mindfully increases risk awareness, whilst enabling people to control their risky or unsafe behavior.6
It is possible to train resilience to enable us to ‘bounce back’ quicker in situations that pose a threat to operational safety or our own wellbeing. High performers from the fields of sports, business, and the performing arts, can all provide positive examples of resilience under pressure. Resilience requires effective emotional self-regulation, which is widely reported to be enhanced by the practice of mindfulness.7
People often report attaining a new psychological perspective on their work and life through greater mindfulness. They can achieve this by applying new skills to establish a more objective relationship with their thoughts and feelings. In addition, it is possible to learn how to flexibly reframe ‘negative’ situations in the workplace and beyond. New perspectives and insights emerge more readily since people in a mindful state can be “open to several ways of viewing the situation”.8
By teaching people effective coping strategies, it is possible to avoid mental ill health and reduce unwelcome costs. Performance and mental health are intricately linked.
People in a positive state of mind are far more likely to perform well on the job. Key elements from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) have been built into the ARROWS training programme to help trainees take positive steps if they notice their mood is low. There is a well-researched, significant positive relationship between mindfulness and wellbeing.9
Stress and Conflict Reduction
People skills come to the fore here. Reducing stress and conflict promotes effective decision-making, and translates into lower rates of absenteeism, higher engagement levels, and greater employee loyalty. The taught skills of mindful communication keep the dignity of all parties intact. This is especially important in safety critical environments where communication breakdowns can cause accidents.