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Optimus Seventh Generation launches research to understand chronic unease

21 February 2017

Chronic unease can be described as the opposite of complacency where a state of constant wariness towards the management of risk is present. As researchers Dr Laura Fruhen and Professor Rhona Flin stated "to be wary is to be ready for the unexpected". They said the presence of chronic unease in leaders is the key to maintaining a safe working environment.

Chronic unease is about showing a healthy scepticism towards one's own decisions and towards the risks that come with working in a high hazard industry. It's about probing deeper and fully understanding the risks of where we are working rather than assuming that systems will keep us safe. Chronic unease makes us ask "are we are doing enough"?

Within High Reliability Organisations (HROs) such as nuclear aircraft carriers and air traffic control, chronic unease is a common characteristic. These organisations operate within high risk situations over long periods of time. To be able to maintain the safety of their people and their plant and equipment, HROs need to constantly evaluate the level of risk and constantly develop and improve ways to manage safety effectively. Chronic unease is said to be key in achieving the excellent safety record these organisations have.

Fruhen and Flin have identified 5 components of chronic unease:
* Experience: we cannot influence whether a person experiences a major incident however if they have, if this has increased their level of chronic unease, we should see differences in their behaviour and decision making where they are more wary about the management of risk at work.
* Vigilance: If a leader can identify hazards and remain vigilant to weak signals and warning signs over a prolonged period of time, they can take action to prevent these resulting in a low probability, high consequence event (a major safety incident).

The final three components of chronic unease are personality traits.
* Pessimism is about the leader’s ability to avoid complacency and challenge how risk is managed and unsafe working behaviours.
* Propensity to worry represents a leader’s concern with the possibility of future danger.
* Flexible thinking/imagination is the leader’s ability to anticipate what might go wrong.

However, research into chronic unease and what this actually looks like at the worksite is still in its infancy. How can safety leaders and workforces increase their chronic unease? To further explore and add to existing research, Optimus Seventh Generation has developed a Chronic Unease Survey which measures the five components of chronic unease. If you would like to contribute to a greater understanding of this concept, please click the following link: Upon completing the survey you will receive a summary of your personal chronic unease findings. 

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