How to tackle the risks of overconfidence bias around toxic gases

Overconfidence bias is, essentially, the tendency of certain people to overestimate their skills, talent, intellect or judgement. It’s a known psychological phenomenon, and one that’s especially prevalent in the world of finance and stock trading.

toxic gas

However, it’s also known to occur in other sectors too, including the world of gas safety. And where toxic gas detection systems are concerned, overconfidence bias can pose far more immediate – and deadly – threats.

Senior engineers with more than a decade of experience can be especially prone to overconfidence bias. The more experience and accomplishments they have under their belt, the easier it can be to start overestimating it, and therefore the more prone they can be to overconfidence bias. So, if think you’ve started noticing signs of it amongst your own employees, here’s what to bear in mind.

The key dangers of overconfidence bias with toxic gases

Let’s begin with the obvious – overconfidence can kill someone. Worse than that, in the worst case scenarios it can even kill several people. Employees who are overconfidence sometimes come to favour their own judgement over the warnings given by dedicated pieces of equipment, including fixed gas detection systems.

In practice, this can often mean they end up turning off the equipment in question when there’s an active alarm – either because they believe the problem is already being dealt with, or because their opinion is that there was never a serious issue to begin with. Given the immense toxicity of gases like chlorine and CO2, it only takes one mistake for this to cause a life-changing injury, or even end a life entirely.

Crucially, the longer this goes on, the more that overconfidence can grow, and the greater the danger can end up being. It’s also worth noting that studies suggest overconfidence can rub off on multiple employees. Plus, if newer or less experienced employees spot any senior engineers cutting corners, they might be especially tempted to do so themselves, bypassing the ‘formal’ guidance. All that can result in a harmful culture of negligence spreading in your organisation, essentially multiplying the dangers and ultimately making an injury or fatality all but certain.
This alone makes it a serious problem that needs to be addressed as soon as you’re able. Here are a couple of ways to do that.

1. Have a chat with them

This is a very simple and straightforward measure, and always worth trying first. When it comes right down to it, every employee will know that they shouldn’t be prematurely switching off gas alarms (or deactivating them entirely). Not only will it be against your company policy, but it’s also basic common sense. So once you become aware of the issue, a quiet private chat might be just what you need to encourage them to start doing things by the book. (If not for the fear of their health, then certainly for the fear of their job!)

Crucially, you don’t have to go in with all guns blazing, or gear yourself up for an extended argument. All you need is a quick quiet reminder, and you can see how things go from there. If you spot that the issue is still happening, then you can see about what next steps to take.

2. Use gas detection data and dedicated managers

As we touched upon in a recent post, collecting gas detection data on how and when your gas alarms go off enables you to track any problematic or worrying trends, so you can monitor how often your employees are exposed to it. This can also help you spot when they’re being turned off prematurely, or unnecessarily. You can choose to address this yourself, or task one of your team with following up on every instance where an alarm sounds, to find out what caused the alarm to go off, when it was turned off, and why.

3. Set boundaries – and be prepared to enforce consequences

If you’re still finding that the problem persists, you’ll have to start setting consequences for those who break these rules, up to and including dismissal. Try to avoid giving people second chances, as the more second chances they have, the harder it can be to eventually start enforcing those ultimatums. Bear in mind that once you’ve set an ultimatum, you have to stick to it – so if you’ve threatened someone with dismissal, you’ll need to follow through on it. It’s understandable for you to be wary of it if they’re particularly senior, as employees with a lot of experience can be a pain to replace, but no amount of experience and expertise can make up for endangering lives at work.

Ultimately, you don’t want or need your employees to use their personal judgement about how much gas is enough to kill someone. That’s exactly what your toxic gas

detectors are for. Many toxic gases, like CO2, are colourless and odourless, so they’re very hard for humans to detect in the first instance. In cases like these, a reliable fixed gas detection system can literally make the difference between life and death.

As you can imagine, it’s something we take very seriously here at Gas Alarms Systems, so we take care to stock a wide range of sophisticated but affordable gas detection systems, both fixed and portable – ones that you can always rely on to keep you and your employees safe. You can explore them right here on our website, or if you have any questions or need any advice, by all means call us on 01423 862240, and we’ll be happy to see how we can help.