As a research psychologist for NASA, Steve Casner spent decades analyzing how pilots think and helping turn those findings into safety protocols for the aviation industry. A few years ago, he found a new calling: making the world safer.
Collecting decades of personal anecdotes and global tragedies, loads of safety data and even more common sense, Casner authored Careful: A User’s Guide to Our Injury-Prone Minds (available May 23).
This insightful, easy read is his attempt to show that despite our technology and greater emphasis on safety at work, we face just as many perils to our mortality and good health as our parents and grandparents, who never wore seatbelts and chain-smoked while filling up at the pump. For example, he mentions 4,005 people were killed at work in 2014, while 47,732 people headed to the emergency room following a TV set-related incident.
We recently asked Casner, a trained pilot and overall adrenaline seeker, how to re-calibrate our brains, so that a flawless safety record is the one thing from work we wouldn’t mind bringing home.
NED: What made you decide to write this book?
Casner: I’ve been working in the aviation industry for almost 30 years and we’ve got aviation safety to the point where the odds of something bad happening to you on that airplane are infinitesimal. It is unbelievably safe. It’s so safe that I think we may have helped to get rid of our own jobs, actually.
So, I started looking outside of the cockpit and I realized there are bigger problems out there. I got really interested in automobile safety.
We’re now seeing an unprecedented rise in car crashes. How can this be happening? It got safer every year and now all of a sudden, it's leaping upward again.
And then I started looking at increases in ladder injuries. It's like all of a sudden, the safety gains we’ve enjoyed for 100 years just reversed and started going up again. What’s going on?
We didn't turn into a bunch of klutzes or dumdums. So, what could possibly explain this? That question is what really captured my interest. Then I realized it was probably time to upgrade the way we all think about being careful.
NED: The workplace seems safer than ever, with a huge emphasis on protecting workers. So how are we still injury-prone?
Casner: We’re not doing a good enough job of bringing workplace safety home. It’s the same people in the United States that have a 2.9 percent fatality rate at work yet who have a 50 percent fatality rate at home. Just look at the words we use being at work and being at home: “I’m on (work), I’m off work.”
We may be off a lot of things; maybe we’re off our safety game.
NED: Why do you think that is?
Casner: In the workplace, we have a culture where we can make people go through safety training. We can infuse the safety mindset throughout the whole work environment. And then, of course, we do our job in the presence of other people. If I’m at home slicing a bagel, I’m the only one there. There aren’t 10 other bagel slicers watching what I’m doing and there’s no signage and I don’t have to get checked out on any equipment.
People under-recognize how much support they get in the workplace.
NED: How else are our minds injury-prone?
Casner: There are so many traps in our everyday thinking about being safe. When we’re in a car, there’s this belief that making a red light is somehow going to save us time. Study after study shows that whatever you gain here is just going to be frittered away somewhere else. And how many times do you watch someone hurry through an intersection and doesn’t move when the next light turns green because they’re on their phone?
We all make occasional errors but we’re not that good at admitting it and preparing for them in advance. We tend to dismiss advice. Even really good advice.
We get risk all wrong. We worry in the back of airplanes that wouldn’t crash if we rode on them 10 million times. Yet we’ll stare down at a phone while we’re in a crosswalk as if the drivers coming at us don’t have phones of their own.
We need to seriously overhaul the way we think about being careful, and that’s really the whole point of the book.