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A Safe State of Mind is a Service in the Workplace


Being aware of safety principles does not materially improve one’s safety, but being in the right state of mind does. In other words, talking about safety, thinking about safety, having cards that remind us of safety are not effective unless they change our state of mind. Safe Start International has identified four common States of Mind that cause, or contribute to critical errors, namely: Rushing, Frustration, Fatigue, and Complacency. Creating a safety culture is a continuous battle with frequent states of mind common to human nature.  In today’s Covid19 concerned climate, two of these seem particularly relevant – rushing and frustration.


In the 1970’s, the Princeton Seminary conducted a study on the effects of time pressure and helpful behavior. In the experiment, seminary students were assigned to give a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan in an auditorium across campus.

In order to study the effects of being in a hurry on service, some students were told to hurry – that their audience was already waiting (a high hurry situation). Some students were told that they had enough time if they left right away (an intermediate hurry situation). Some students were told they had more than enough time before their presentation would start (low hurry).

As the students journeyed across campus, they each encountered an actor who was placed in an alleyway who appeared destitute, severely hurt, and clearly in need of assistance. The study revealed that only 10% of the students in the high hurry condition stopped to help the victim. The intermediate hurry students fared better at 45%, while the students in the low hurry condition helped the stranger 63% of the time.

The researchers concluded, “A person not in a hurry may stop and offer help to a person in distress. A person in a hurry is likely to keep going. Ironically, he is likely to keep going even if he is hurrying to speak on the parable of the Good Samaritan, thus inadvertently confirming the point of the parable. . . Thus thinking about the Good Samaritan did not increase helping behavior, but being in a hurry decreased it.”

The Princeton Seminary study proved that rushing causes us to experience a phenomenon known as “narrowing the cognitive map.”  When we rush, we miss important details in our environment that cause us to make critical errors in judgement resulting in us not choosing the highest and best choices for ourselves or others. These errors in judgement make us more susceptible to injury and less aware of other people’s needs.

Einstein proved that time is relative, however time feels pretty constant for most of us.  What is not constant is how we each approach our use of time, how we react to time pressures, and the degree to which we allow time pressures to change the cognitive map of our surroundings.


Frustration is often the result of external stresses and anxieties and can result in distraction. It is frustrating watching our 401k values drop like a rock. Anxiety is felt in every bare shelved supermarket aisle. Worrying about job stability is stressful. As external stresses rise beware of frustration which also has the ability to narrow our cognitive map, making us less aware of our surroundings and more prone to injury and injuring others.

A few years ago I decided to do some home repairs during a time I was experiencing high frustration and significant levels of stress. While working with a ladder, I stepped backwards without looking and fell into a window well. My head hit cement and I crashed up against a glass window. Fortunately, I climbed out with only minor bruises and cuts, but I was shaken and knew I could not safely continue to do home repairs in my frustrated state of mind. My cognitive map was compromised, so I set down my tools for the day.

For some people, frustration can lead to anger, and in the business place, anger is almost never a good state of mind to lead from. Anger is a two edged sword that hurts the one who wields it as much or more than the one who is wounded by it. Anger damages culture one outburst at a time. Decisions made in anger are often viewed in hindsight as poor, uninformed, and hasty.

Safety Mindset

Being in the right state of mind is the foundation of safety and for service. And isn’t working safely just another form of service to ourselves, our loved ones, and those we work with?  When you find yourself rushing, frustrated, fatigued or complacent, please put your tools down.

For help building strong safety cultures and improving operational performance, turn to the management consulting experts at USC Consulting Group. Stay safe and keep serving.

This article was written by USC Management Consultant and Subject Matter Expert David Newman.


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