How many of you feel that you are cautious and prudent when it comes to safety? How many of you think that you are safer than your friends and associates? Now, how many of you have driven unsafely at least 100 times?

It Can't Happen to Me

So, what do you think it is that impels us to take risks and shortcuts? The most prevalent attitude or mindset of those who take chances with their safety is "it can't happen to me". Thinking this way is an attitude many of us have developed over the years. In fact, it has become our personal reality - part of who we are.

When we were youngsters, we would run, jump, fall, slip, and trip. Our bones and bodies were flexible and the fields and playgrounds were soft. Even when we suffered a broken bone, it healed quickly and we went right back to our youthful adventures.

As we became teenagers and young adults, however, the potential for serious injury became greater. We were driving cars (often over the 50 mph limit) as well as trucks and farm equipment. We were operating presses, slitters and shredders that could amputate an arm. Still we believed that "it can't happen to me". When we had access to alcohol and other intoxicating substances, we had an even greater sense of invulnerability.

The Role of Culture

It wasn't just our own sense of invulnerability that drove us to take chances; it was also our friends egging us on to drive faster, drink more and push the envelope. Risk-taking was encouraged by our friends - the culture was all about taking a chance. I remember being a sophomore in high school and hearing about some seniors who went drinking across the state line and on their return, they crashed into a stonewall. One of them was killed instantly and the other required a steel plate in his skull. We hear these stories all the time, unfortunately; and still there are accidents and injuries because we live in a culture that takes shortcuts to save time and meet deadlines.

How Unsafe Cultures Emerge

Youthful risk taking carries over to us as adults. Friends who encouraged us to drive faster as teen-agers are now our co-workers who may condone or overlook our risk-taking behavior. Likewise, supervisors and managers who create safety policies and slogans and then don't support the effort by their actions create a cynical atmosphere. By not 'walking the talk" by pushing for production and overlooking unsafe behavior, they demonstrate a lack of commitment and even unwittingly support the "it can't happen to me" culture that promotes risk-taking and unsafe behavior. Unfortunately, when that kind of behavior is allowed, an unsafe culture develops over the years and permeates all levels of the organization - from the personal level all the way up to the corporate level.

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