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Combating optimism bias
with effective warning signs

Bad things happen. Accidents, mistakes, catastrophic failures. Unfortunately, even knowing how common such accidents or mistakes are, many people — perhaps unconsciously — feel confident that such misfortune won’t happen to them.

This is known as “optimism bias,” the difference between overly positive expectations and the reality that follows. Despite known risks or even recognizing danger, optimism bias can drive intelligent people to ignore warnings or cut corners out of the belief that the worst simply won’t happen to them.

While optimism bias may be a reflection of confidence or competence, it can sometimes result in negative outcomes. Especially in a business setting. For example, employees affected by optimism bias might contribute to inventory loss or shrinkage due to stolen, misplaced or damaged goods. Worse yet, optimism bias can lead to employees ignoring safety precautions, cutting corners in daily operations and ultimately creating even greater workplace hazards through negligence.

Consider an employee who fails to complete a safety check. Optimism bias can lead to data loss in this case. And if that employee gets injured because of carelessness, they can be on the hook for damages. That's a lose-lose situation.

See the safety tips below for quick and effective ways to combat optimism bias in your workplace.

Ensure signage is highly visible

Clear, visible signage is one way you can help fight optimism bias in the workplace. Signage helps to reinforce an employee’s training, offering safety reminders before and during work hours. Maximize the efficiency of your signage. Make sure to place signs in highly trafficked areas like:

  • break areas
  • bathrooms
  • locations that might require personal protective equipment (PPE)

Make sure that the posters you use are easy to read and understand. If you’re creating the signs yourself, consider color visuals such as bright colors and bold fonts to help get the message across. Don’t clutter signs with extra words or images; instead, use recognizable workplace safety symbols and clear language.

Post multiple warnings, labels or information sheets

Repetition is often a partner to forming long-term memory and building positive habits. To make sure that employees see and understand your signs, post copies around the workplace. Multiple copies of the same safety poster can improve visibility and help to reinforce any warnings. And, in large facilities, where you might find fewer common areas, safety signage can help remind employees of any present dangers.

You can place safety warnings in a variety of locations. In addition to shared workspaces and commonly frequented areas, consider placing signage directly on the equipment used each day. For example, you might place warnings directly onto cable labels, or on heavy machinery.

Optimism bias can also prevent employees from properly acknowledging hazardous materials in a workplace. Help employees overcome this bias -- place information sheets and distinct signage near all hazardous materials. Consider a hazardous materials label printer so each container can be labeled.

Ensure messaging is consistent across all signage

In any work environment, consistency is key. It’s the same with safety. Safety signs must use the same terms and tone. When you're creating signage for your workplace, make sure that the words and phrases you use remain consistent. This will help avoid misunderstandings.

To help your workplace combat optimism bias, your safety signs should accomplish a simple goal: convey safety regulations, warnings and pertinent information in the most straightforward way. Avoid confusion and add clarity by using consistent language across all signs.

If employees have questions, they have to know where to find answers. Consider adding important contact information at the bottom of your signs, like:

  • Phone numbers
  • Email where they can submit their questions or concerns
  • Websites or additional resources

Blend signage with updated training

Along with consistent and highly visible signage, it’s essential to make compliance and awareness part of your organization’s culture. The signage alone isn’t enough — everyone needs to feel responsible for following best practices, taking risks seriously and holding each other to the same standards. Establishing a positive workplace safety culture can help build this sense of community responsibility.

Likewise, when safety standards evolve, signage must reflect any changes to current policies. For example, if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updates safety protocol for hard hats in the workplace, you can update workplace warning signs with new details.

In addition to OSHA compliance, it’s important to blend signage with training updates. When safety parameters change, employers should take time to communicate these safety updates. Even a short training session can help employees become familiarized with new policies and OSHA compliance standards.

Consider a label printer to help you move your signage update process into high gear. Create customized safety messages at an even greater scale with an industrial label printer

Offer ongoing training and employee enrichment

As safety procedures change and optimism bias sets in, some employees can become increasingly vulnerable to risk or injury in the workplace. Employers can help reduce these risks by offering ongoing training and employee enrichment programs. It’s an effective way to familiarize workers with new standards.

For workplaces with added risk, ongoing training is especially important. Employees should be regularly trained on how to manage hazardous materials, even if the information was included as part of their initial onboarding.

Employees operating heavy machinery in the workplace also deserve ongoing training. Sometimes, employees ignore safety protocols as they grow familiar with a piece of heavy machinery. Warning signage and regular employee education programs keep employees informed and aware of the dangers associated with their daily tasks, particularly when operating large machinery.


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