Mindfulness and Health & Safety Performance


Do you wonder how mindfulness is linked to health and safety?


You wouldn’t be alone…either questioning this or assuming it is about employee wellbeing. This article explains the “how”, illustrating how mindfulness-based approaches offer something beyond increased wellbeing. It is essential reading if your organisation is thinking of investing in such an approach for workplace safety.

In May 2023, whilst presenting my work at a European conference (https://eawop2023.org/), I noticed the increasing number of studies being presented on mindfulness and its positive influence on workplace health and safety performance.
The studies demonstrated a positive effect on safety compliance and participation behaviours, as well as increases in attentional performance and reductions in occupational hazards and injuriesFor example, Amazon recently integrated guided mindfulness techniques as part of a program to reduce injury rates in their warehouses. 


So how does it work?

A regular practice of mindfulness meditation and a reflective process guided by a teacher activates a particular psychological process in our minds. In simple terms, the process involves enhancing our objective awareness and increasing our capacity to self-regulate (see the diagram below). This in turn helps us to acknowledge and manage any bias, emotion or thinking that may be influencing our perception of a situation.


Objective awareness is a combination of situational awareness (being aware of the environment at any given moment) and self-awareness (being aware in the moment of what we are thinking and feeling and any impulsive reactions in relation to a situation).

Self-regulation refers to the process of understanding and managing our attention, emotions, thoughts, and automatic or “impulsive” reactions.

And how is this relevant?

Such a process is useful in any workplace, you only need to think of the positive effect this can have on relations with colleagues (e.g., better listening, reduced unhelpful conflict). However, in safety-critical work domains where the risks, hazards and emotional and cognitive demands are high, this psychological process is crucial:

  • Workers in the construction industry who operate at height, use heavy equipment, or handle toxic materials need to detect risks and hazards early to respond proactively rather than reactively.

  • Pilots need to detect flight risks and appraise accurately the level of the risk, prioritising their decisions and actions to avoid incidents.

  • Paramedics or Firefighters need to remain focused over long periods during complex, difficult, or dangerous incidents, even when the emotional and cognitive demands are high.

  • Soldiers and fighter pilots are required to switch from open monitoring and vigilance of the external environment to a narrow focus on the task in hand, adapting according to the threats observed.

  • A police officer needs to discern the appropriate response if someone is showing signs of aggressive behaviour; often physical restraint may escalate the risks for all.

  • Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare clinicians with a heavy workload over long periods need to ensure that medical processes (e.g., patient assessment, surgical procedures or medication administration) is carried out without error, whilst dealing with multiple interruptions.

What next?

A successful mindfulness-based programme for safety performance must be overtly relevant and quickly helpful to participants. Therefore, the programme design needs to keep participants motivated and supported as they develop new daily habits and mindsets. 
To do this effectively, the programme is co-built between a qualified mindfulness expert and a domain expert within the organisation. If you are interested in exploring this approach further, do please contact me.

Anne Macdonald | Performance Psychology