Training for Prevention
I once saw some video footage of commercial drivers microsleeping and being distracted at the wheel. Of course, the video evidence obtained from cameras in the cab was indisputable. It confirmed those drivers did not have their attention on the road. But why wait until events like this show up at the sharp end? The emphasis on catching those drivers ‘red-handed’ in the middle of cognitive lapses suggested driver wellbeing did not feature highly on the safety agenda.
Prioritising health and wellbeing before it gets to that stage will likely translate into fewer incidents, happier employees and a much stronger bottom line. A preventative mindset is needed - this is where organisational mindfulness has a strong role to play. Had those ‘offending’ drivers been trained effectively, they might have displayed a much higher degree of alertness, decreasing the chances of an incident. This is all about reframing organisational objectives to systematically focus on what is going right, rather than looking almost exclusively at what is going wrong.
Our questions about human performance need reformulating to reflect a desire to learn from positives. For example, what can we learn from employees who have achieved high-quality sleep patterns and can effectively manage their fatigue? How can the knowledge of staying alert that some drivers evidently possess benefit their colleagues who find it more difficult? Questions like these can be asked well before there is a safety incident, creating the groundwork for far more positive safety outcomes.
Mindfulness-based training may give businesses an advantage in helping to answer some of these questions. Google’s example shows how mindfulness can gain traction in a high-tech corporate environment. By appointing a head of mindfulness training, the business recognised some time ago that success is dependent on happy workers with healthy, alert minds.16 The same thinking, albeit with a sharper emphasis on safety, is now being applied in high-hazard industries. The trend can only grow as safety-focused organisations increasingly value mindfulness-based safety training for the benefits it brings - not just in terms of enhanced wellbeing, but in terms of improved attention and concentration levels.
- • Evidence from the neuroscience shows how the brain changes physically as a result of daily mindfulness practice.
- • Over the last few decades, mindfulness programmes have consistently demonstrated their effectiveness in improving the wellbeing of participants, but there is now a strong interest in improving safety outcomes too.
- • The ARROWS programme takes the essential elements from traditional mindfulness programmes, but specifically tailors the content for safety environments.
- • The business case for mindfulness training in frontline roles is far easier to make when the costs of safety incidents caused by inattention are acknowledged. The training costs are often small in comparison.
- • Where ARROWS style mindfulness programmes have been introduced in safety environments, the results have proven to be statistically significant in the areas of attention-related performance and the reduction of risky behaviours.
- • Research from real-world environments (e.g. London’s buses, nuclear power and healthcare) shows how mindfulness programmes can positively impact safety in a variety of settings.
M4: Applying Mindfulness to Improve Safety Performance
- • Individuals who practice mindfulness report higher levels of wellbeing, and higher levels of attention and concentration.
- • In safety environments, this translates into higher performance on safety- related tasks.
- • Learning how to embed new habits (and give up counterproductive ones) helps create safer behaviours.
- • Many participants on mindfulness programmes also report a fundamental shift in life perspective.
- • In the calmer state of mind taught by mindfulness, relationships become easier to manage with less interpersonal tension.
- • Mindful people tend to be more empathic, increasing the chances of successful conflict resolution.
- • More options for resolving differences become apparent, since mindfulness reduces defensiveness or reliance on strongly held views.
- • Mindfulness encourages assertive communication, helping to replace passive or aggressive styles.
- • Mindfulness training programmes tailored for safety environments, such as ARROWS, can play a key role in reducing the likelihood of a safety incident at work.
- • The research evidence also suggests such programmes can bring about positive change in terms of safety participation and safety compliance.
- • These programmes adopt a preventative mindset, an important factor in creating a more mindful safety culture.
- • Their appeal lies just as much in improving attention and concentration, as it does in enhancing levels of wellbeing.
- • The economic and social costs of safety incidents to society can be reduced by the greater adoption of mindfulness training.
- • It also encourages safety awareness outside work, which is especially important in the current climate, where safety is a responsibility shared by whole populations.
- • More mindful employees are likely to make more mindful citizens, valuing not just their contributions to work, but to wider society too.
- • Mindfulness fosters gratitude and an appreciation for the interconnectedness of our lives at a societal level.
- 1. Kao, K., Thomas, C.L., Spitzmueller, C. & Huang, Y. (2019). Being present in enhancing safety: examining the effects of workplace mindfulness, safety behaviors, and safety climate on safety outcomes. Journal of Business and Psychology.
- 2. Holzel. B.R., Carmody, J., Vangel. M., Congleton, C„ Yerramsetti, S.M.. Gard, T. & Lazar, S.W. (2010). Mindfulness leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006. Epub 2010 November 10.
- 3. See note 3 above.
- 4. Brown, K.W. & Ryan, R.M. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Volume 84(4), pp. 822-848.
- 5. Brown, K.W., Ryan, R.M. & Creswell, J.D. (2007). Mindfulness: theoretical foundations and evidence for its salutary effects. Psychological Inquiry, Volume 18(4), pp. 211-237.
- 6. Feldman, G., Greeson, J., Renna, M. & Robbins-Monteith, K. (2011). Mindfulness predicts less texting while driving among young adults: examining attention and emotion- regulation motives as potential mediators. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 51(7), pp. 856-861.
- 7. Brown, K.W., Ryan, R.M. & Creswell, J.D. (2007). Mindfulness: theoretical foundations and evidence for its salutary effects. Psychological Inquiry, Volume 18(4), pp. 211-237.
- 8. Brown, J. & Langer, E. (1990). Mindfulness and intelligence: a comparison. Educational Psychologist, Volume 25(3-4). pp. 305-335.
- 9. Pidgeon, A.M. & Keye, M. (2014). Relationship between resilience, mindfulness, and psychological well-being in university students. International Journal of Liberal Arts and Social Science. Volume 2(5), pp. 27-32.
- 10. People spend ‘half their waking hours daydreaming’. BBC News. 12 November 2010. Available from https://www.bbc.com/news/health-11741350 (Accessed 19.07.2018).
- 11. Simanjuntak, S. (2014). The Indirect Costs Assessment of Railway Incidents and Their Relationships to Human Errors. The Case of Signals Passed at Danger. Available from https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/faculty-of-engineering/civil/ public/ug/ug-final-year-projects/T13—Sarnuel-Simanjuntak.pdf (Accessed 16.07.2018).
- 12. Langer, C. & Plant, K. (2020). Using mindfulness to reduce the risk of a safety incident on London’s buses. Unpublished research paper.
- 13. Penque, S. (2019). Mindfulness to promote nurses’ well-being. Nursing Management, Volume 50(5), pp. 38-44.
- 14. Dane, E. (2011). Paying attention to mindfulness and its effects on task performance in the workplace. Journal of Management, Volume 37(4), pp. 997-1018.
- 15. Summerfield, M. (2020). Bringing mindfulness into safety critical environments. Unpublished case study.
- 16. Confino, J. (2014). Google’s head of mindfulness: ‘Goodness is good for business’. The Guardian. 14 May 2014. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable- business/google-meditation-mindfulness-technology (Accessed 16.07.2018).