1st June 2022
Last week, I shared my thoughts about safety clutter, after reading an excellent research piece that explained the term. Following on from that, I’ve read another article detailing the pros and cons of the Take-5 method. The research concludes that the method is ineffective, contributing to safety clutter - and we should reconsider using it.
Let’s explore the Take-5 checklist…
The Take-5 system is a checklist that is typically performed immediately before a task is undertaken, often used in industries that involve manual work (as opposed to desk jobs). This activity involves the worker checking off 5 itemised tasks to consider the safety implications of what they’re about to do.
In theory, this system has several applications where it should help improve an organisation's safety:
- 1. Helps to plan the safety of work
- The most immediate function of the checklist where an individual is prompted to actively search for hazards. In doing so, the worker engages in the primary and active function of the Take-5 method by making direct changes to their task to mitigate any discovered hazards.
- 2. Increase attentiveness and thoughtfulness
- As the Take-5 method prompts workers to consider the potential risks of their looming tasks, their brains are primed to be alert for such risks when they begin performing their task. In this way, the system implores frequency bias in individuals - the bias where upon reading or seeing something actively initially, we begin to see that very object far more often in everyday life. If we’re primed to look for hazards with a checklist, theoretically we’ll notice them with increasing frequency in our day-to-day tasks and be more vigilant towards a safer work environment.
- 3. Long-term education
- As a long-term function, the Take-5 method can help to educate workers down the line about how to appropriately look for and mitigate risk in their roles, from a big-picture point of view.
However, researchers followed workers around their organisation and discovered that this classic safety system is not as effective as we might think, unveiling an important perspective that we should bear in mind as we strive to keep our workplaces safe.
Despite the above functions, they found that in practice, Take-5 did not achieve the desired effects, and rather, became a piece of safety clutter. Indeed, no evidence found of the Take-5 approach actually improves planning of work, increases worker heedfulness, improves education, or assists organisation-wide awareness and management of hazards.
Reasons why Take-5 was found to be unhelpful - and how we can learn from them:
- 1. Not-for-me effect
This effect describes how people will hold a belief publicly, that an initiative is a good idea - but privately believe that they do not need to do it, and it’s unnecessary. This effect is a form of cognitive dissonance which results in fewer people taking up a system or performing a mitigation procedure. Overall, the researchers noted that the Not-For-Me effect was consistent across all people within the organisations they examined.
It’s worth noting the not-for-me effect, and considering whether you’ve personally experienced it. When it comes to safety - especially as organisational leaders - we might espouse particular ideas when it comes to both physical and mental wellbeing and safety, but privately do not feel we have to undergo the same initiatives.
- 2. Wrong motivation to use Take-5 - for efficiency, rather than the idea of safety
Workers frequently stated that use of the Take-5 tool was most helpful in uncertain, new situations where risks weren’t widely known - over everyday, repeated tasks that they often did. Managers also were able to best motivate their workers to fill out a Take-5 by reasoning with them about how it could make a job more efficient. These observations indicated that Take-5 was more motivating as an efficiency tool, instead of its primary purpose, as a safety tool.
Both findings are problematic, demonstrating that the effectiveness of the Take-5 checklist as a safety tool used every time a risky task is performed, is low.
- 3. Safety or a social defence?
This finding is indicative of a greater, sad reality - that many safety initiatives are simply gimmicks, used as little more than a social defence. By instilling them in the organisation, upper management pat themselves on the back feeling as though something safety related is being achieved in the present. The presence of safety initiatives also helps to deflect any future blame from the management, should anything happen in the future. Such safety clutter is also used as a signalling function, helping workers and organisations appear safe to others - when in reality, the safety initiative does little to actually improve workplace safety.
While we should never completely disregard one safety initiative altogether, this research paper has done an excellent job of examining an often-used safety checklist and exploring whether it actually achieves its objective - of making the workplace safer.
This result does not call for a generalisation to all safety initiatives, where we call everything safety clutter, but it’s a well-timed reminder to retain a critical eye when you build your safety culture. It’s easy to become accustomed to doing things one way over time, and develop a blind spot for our own safety weaknesses.
By remaining proactive about our safety initiatives, taking the necessary step back to ensure that they’re working how they’re supposed to, we ensure we’re being vigilant in keeping our people safe.