"Be careful"

Does saying 'Be careful' to someone help them become more aware of dangers?

"Really?" I've been in the industry for years and have heard the following conversations in different ways: "We've had accidents on the ground, and we want to reduce them." "Do we know why?" "Well, our studies have shown that people are not paying attention."

"Hey, that's great. We can tell our workers to be more careful - I bet they never thought of that."

"Well, of course not; otherwise, they wouldn't have accidents. "That is then agreed. Let's make a pithy slogan out of caution and put up some posters."

As simple as ABC?

Is safety as simple as ABC (always be careful)? Really? (~ Craig Marriot in Challenging the Safety Quo) How many people hear "Take Care" and "Be Careful" regularly before starting a task? Does this help to work more safely?

Professor Patrick Hudson used to say in college that if you ask people to pay attention, more will go wrong! Well-known scientists (such as Daniel Kahneman, Ap Dijksterhuis, Victor Lamme) have shown us that we do less than 5% of what we do #consciously. And that is probably already on the high side.

The conscious mind works like a house.

It can only be in one room at a time. If we acted consciously in everything we do, we would hardly get anything done. Acts from the #subconscious mind are the kind of actions that are embedded in our mind—done without thinking. Maybe scared, but by far most of what we do, we do without 'thinking'. No thinking also means that, given the risks, we think much more often than not.

Scary? Think about driving. Have you never experienced that you suddenly realise that you are 20 km further than you thought? You have overcome 20 km with quite a few dangers in between without even thinking about it. You treated them #safely but unconsciously.

Programming the subconscious mind

Therefore, we must program the subconscious mind to operate safely. #Safety work we must embed in the subconscious mind. How does that work?

Programming the subconscious mind takes place by repeatedly feeding informal safety triggers and incentives. And then authentically setting an example through repetitive and unobtrusive imitations (Erik Deblonde, working conditions 7/6 | 2016). It is taken over and leads, as we know "common sense," embedded in our unconscious system.

It is interesting to note that these imitations one does not feed through the "carrot and stick" method. These imitations are initiated directly by specific nerve cells known as mirror neurons.


With every task, with every job. And applying these imitations is not just the manager's job; it's everyone's job. Copycat.

And social pressure is powerful (I'm referring to the "social proof," one of Dr Robert Cialdini's Six Principles of Persuasion and Victor Lamme's Three Buttons). If this takes place in organisations where there is a #culture of psychological freedom to express #safe behaviour and where people ask questions, then dangers are better tackled.

For example, you are consistently applying the right #PBM for the job. Ask and check for physical and chemical hazards before disconnecting the line. Request and verify interlocking of all energy sources before working on any machine or system. Check that the area is safely barricaded for the lifting job or any work to be performed at height (protection against falling and falling objects), as well as turning off the mobile phone before driving, etc.


"Be careful!" Does not help to prevent #unsafebehaviour unless the addressee answers and asks if he or she is overlooking something because in that case, the conscious behaviour has been triggered. But how often does that happen?

© 2020 Rob Kreté, Safety from Within | Illustrations Tom van Dun, infocomics.nl