Develop a Questioning Attitude about Safety

Questioning Attitude – Make a powerful impact on the way people make decisions.  The following information is from a HPI Tools document from INPO®.


A Questioning Attitude Background:  Attitude is a state of mind or a feeling about a subject or object of interest.  A questioning attitude fosters situation awareness, encouraging thought about safety before action is taken.  Being mindful of the work situation helps a person maintain an accurate understanding of the work conditions at any given time.  It alerts people to imminent hazards, warning signs, and uncertainties in the work environment or with the work plan and encourage the workers to stop and resolve hazards, warnings or uncertainties before proceeding with the job.  Doubt must be followed up with the discovery of facts, not assumptions, to reveal more knowledge about the situation to eliminate doubt.


Complacency and lack of knowledge undermine awareness.  Most people tend to assume everything is alright and that activities always go as planned.  A questioning attitude promotes a preference for facts over assumptions and opinion.  The structured approach described below promotes the discovery of facts.  Facts depend on the reliability of the information source and the accuracy of that information.  Facts are verifiable and visible expressions of behaviors and information.  Without sufficient facts, the worker stops the activity to address an unpredictable work situation that could lead to either a serious mistake or a significant incident.


A good pre-job brief enhances a person’s questioning attitude.  The pre-job briefing sensitizes a worker to what should be and what should not be.  A well-prepared worker knows the potential hazards, critical steps, important parameters, and error-likely situations and their potential consequences before starting the work activity.  This knowledge helps a worker more readily detect off-normal situations.


When to Use the Tool:  The following warning signals flag the opportunity to resolve uncertainty before proceeding with a task:


  • During self-checking (Think step of STAR)
  • Before performing an important step or phase of an activity
  • When making a decision about an important activity
  • When experiencing uncertainty, confusion, or doubt
  • When experiencing a “gut feeling” that “something is not right”
  • When encountering unanticipated changes in conditions
  • When conflicts or inconsistencies exist between plans, procedures and actual conditions
  • After encountering unexpected results
  • After discovering missing information or resources
  • Upon hearing danger words: “I assume,” “probably,” “I think,” “maybe,” “should be,” “not sure,” “might,” “we’ve always,” and so forth


Commonly Accepted Practice: 


SAFE Dialogues & Stop, look and listen—proactively search for work situations that flag uncertainty

o   Pause periodically—take a time out—to check the work situation

o   Pause when a flag is recognized

o   Identify inconsistencies, confusion, uncertainties, and doubts

o   State or verbalize the uneasiness or question in clear terms


Ask questions—gather relevant information

o   What are the “knowns” and “unknowns”?

o   Use independent, accurate, and reliable information sources, especially other knowledgeable persons

o   Compare the current situation (knowns) with independent sources of information

o   Consider “what if…?” and/or use a “devil’s advocate” approach in a spirit of helpfulness

o   Identify persistent inconsistencies, confusion, uncertainties, and doubts

  • Proceed when sure—continue the activity if the uncertainty has been resolved with facts. Otherwise, do not proceed in the face of uncertainty!
  • Stop when unsure—if consistencies, confusion, uncertainties, or doubts still exist, do the following:

o   Stop the activity

o   Place equipment and the job site in a safe condition

o   Notify your immediate supervisor.


At-Risk Practices to Consider Avoiding: 

  • Not pausing periodically (timeout) to refresh your understanding of the work situation
  • Proceeding with a task when questions exist
  • Being unaware of critical parameters or margins
  • Believing nothing can go wrong
  • Believing “routine” or “simple” means “no risk”
  • Assuming
  • Trying to make reality conform to your expectations (mental model) rather than seeing what is really around you
  • Rationalizing doubts, uncertainties, contradictory information, subtle differences, anomalies
  • Not asking questions when subtle cues suggest disorientation is occurring
  • Accepting the first thing that comes to mind, initial impressions, or assessments as factual
  • Ignoring subtle differences or apparently minor inconsistencies
  • Not understanding the basis of the procedure step
  • Not considering the likely effects of taking or not taking an important action
  • Allowing emotions rather than reason to guide decisions
  • Accepting supporting evidence without questioning its validity



Human Performance Tools for Workers

General Practices for Anticipating, Preventing, and Catching Human Error

During the Performance of Work

General Distribution

April 2006

Good Practice



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