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How can OHS use mindfulness to improve OHS outcomes?

Tuesday, 14 May, 2019 - 15:00
Industry news
National News

Mindfulness is gaining traction in many disciplines, according to an expert in the area, who said that the OHS profession is also interested in the theory and practice of mindfulness to improve safety within organisations.

While mindfulness is still in its infancy with regards to having significant impacts on incident reduction, mindfulness will play an increasingly important role in OHS outcomes in the future, said Alistair Schuback, safety culture specialist with Aframes Safety.

“It’s such a great tool to help in decision making and so many of the incidents that occur on worksites are decision-related,” he said.

“James Reason’s model of human error points to inattention as a significant contributor to incidents.

“By utilising mindfulness, we can develop a clearer understanding of how our mind works, of our mental state and consequently, give ourselves the conscious attention needed to make the best decision possible at the right time.”

In turn, this leads to performance improvements in a range of areas – including safety, according to Schuback, who was speaking ahead of the SIA National Health and Safety Conference, which will be held from 22-23 May 2019 at the International Convention Centre in Sydney.

Schuback has trained more than 15,000 people in his career and he said many people – including both workers and leaders – do not have solid control over their mind and their decisions.

“This doesn’t suggest they are bad people, just that they lack the mental ‘fitness’ to manage their situation,” he said.

“The flow-on of not having a “balanced” mind is that people become emotional, are reactive in their behaviour, become impatient and lack composure to manage the pressures of modern worksites.

“So often these symptoms are found in safety incidents and if we equip people with the ability to understand their mind and ‘steer it’, they have the ability to better manage their behaviour.”

There are a number of steps organisations can take to address individual beliefs regarding behaviour and safety, according to Schuback, who said the first one is to have a clear definition of what beliefs an organisation wants.

“There is an old saying that if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there,” he said.

“Safety culture is no different and if we are ambiguous about the beliefs and values we want, they will be harder to achieve.

“Couple this with the ability to understand the duality of mind (our fast and slow mind according to Daniel Kahnamen’s work) we can observe our belief mind and consciously choose, or practice, a better belief system.”

For OHS professionals, Schuback said that understanding mental processes is critical: “couple this knowing that the mind drives the body, and we can see that behaviour is driven by the mind,” he said.

What influences the mind’s function (for example, the emotional state, sense of self, and/or confidence) becomes very important in the safety effort, Schuback explained.

“Fostering the right safety culture to support balanced, positive mental functioning will give us not only the mental health but the mental resilience to achieve high level safety outcomes such as zero harm,” he said.


Schuback will be speaking at the SIA National Health and Safety Conference, which will be held from 22-23 May 2019 at the International Convention Centre in Sydney. As part of the #SAFETYSCAPE Convention, the conference will bring together stakeholders across the health and safety profession to discuss some of the challenges currently faced by WHS professionals and practitioners and explore the impacts these have on the OHS profession, For more information, call (03) 8336 1995, email or visit the SIA National Health and Safety Conference website.