How can I use my brain as PPE? - Part 2

By Cristian Sylvestre*
Monday, 10 August, 2009

Once you understand and look for this ‘state to error’ pattern in yourself, your family members and your coworkers, you’ll see them everywhere. We all make unintentional errors and the pattern is very common.

So, how do you stop yourself from making unintentional mistakes and reduce human error? You use your brain as PPE.

You have to develop habits so you do not make one or more of the four critical errors. In other words, knowing about a hazard won’t do you much good if you don’t see it or you aren't thinking about it. But if you are, your reflexes will get you out of the way before it gets you.

Sounds simple, but it needs practice like any other new skill you are trying to develop. Precisely what needs to be practised comes in the form of four critical error reduction techniques:

  • Self-trigger on the state (or amount of hazardous energy) so you don’t make a critical error: We can tell when we are rushing, fatigued or frustrated. Since critical errors occur mostly when we are in one or more of the four states, knowing this before we make a critical error can help us focus on preventing the critical error from being made.
  • Look at others for the patterns that increase the risk of injury: It is difficult to self-trigger on complacency. The best way to fight complacency is to look at others for the ‘state to error’ patterns that make us aware of how dangerous a task or a hazard can be. Seeing others focuses our minds when we are exposed to it.
  • Analyse close calls and small errors (those with little consequences) to prevent agonising over the big ones: This is just so that we learn from all our mistakes, not just the ones that cost us in terms of injuries but also the ‘free lessons’ (close calls, etc).
  • Work on safe habits: At the end of the day, unless we can re-program our brains to get into new habits that take into account the ‘state to error’ pattern, the principles will not be much use to us.

The trick with all this is not to know that rushing, frustration, fatigue and complacency cause us to make critical errors; the trick is to realise we are rushing, frustrated, fatigued or complacent before we make a critical error, and be able to stop ourselves. That needs a change to our current habits and this only happens with practice.

If we can change our habits and thereby minimise the critical errors we make, we are less likely to get hurt because we will be putting ourselves in a position where we can use our brain as PPE.

This article is based on research conducted by Larry Wilson in the US, who subsequently wrote the SafeStart program that has been used to train over 1,500,000 people in preventing unintentional mistakes. Wilson has presented information on his research at safety conferences in Australia in the past and will be conducting a series of SafeStart workshops in Australia in September (

*Cristian Sylvestre, Principal of SafeTrain Pty Ltd.

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