What Causes Mistakes In The Workplace?

Industry News By Matthew Coombes

Mistakes can be costly

Depending on the risks that are present in your workplace, a mistake can be anything from hitting your thumb with a hammer to driving your forklift into some racking and bringing down an entire warehouse of shelving. Sometimes a series of small mistakes can lead to a large incident.

What causes mistakes?

There are many factors that can influence us to make a mistake and each one has its own influence on how events can unfold:

Organisational culture

Being in a workplace that takes health and safety seriously can significantly reduce the likelihood and severity of a mistake. Sometimes this means that tasks seem to take longer, but a job done right the first time doesn’t need to be done again, and avoiding mistakes, incidents, accidents, and injuries means that there’s no chance that the workplace will have to close unexpectedly.

Dropping something from a scaffolding tower could seriously injure somebody below, but if your organisation takes workplace health and safety seriously, you will be more likely to remember to use tools that clip onto your belt/scaffold (reducing the risk of a tool falling), or the unfortunate individual below might have remembered to wear their hard hat (reducing the severity of injury from being hit on the head).



Having the right tool for the job is one of the best ways to avoid mistakes. There are few things worse in DIY than trying to put up a shelf and hitting a pipe instead. One emergency plumber later, you’ve got a hole in the wall the size of a small cat and you’re probably regretting not spending some money on a digital detector.

The same applies to the workplace, but often the outcomes are more serious. If you have the wrong tool for the job, trying to complete the task will often require some shortcuts, jury-rigging, mistakes and probably some duct tape.

In this video this individual pours petrol onto a fire. Because petrol has a low flashpoint, it is already releasing flammable gasses, so it doesn’t even need to come into contact with the flame in order to ignite. In this instance petrol is not the right tool for the job.

The right tool for the job applies to all things including simple things like respiratory protective equipment (RPE). The wrong mask for your face can mean that the mask isn’t doing its job, in fact it might not be doing anything at all. Having the right mask is essential if you’re trying to keep small particles out of your lungs, like silica dust from cutting bricks and breeze blocks.


Having enough people to help you to do your job, pick up some slack or just be a second pair of hands for a task is essential.

If you’re understaffed or don’t have someone to help you to complete a task, you will often find that you rush to get things done or take shortcuts. Who hasn’t lifted something heavy because there wasn’t anyone around to help them? But you’re only one bad lift away from a trip to the hospital.

This doesn’t just apply to physical work too, if you’ve got too much on your plate, you’re more likely to be stressed and this can negatively affect your thinking. You may be busy thinking about something or someone that has stressed you out at work or even at home, and if your mind’s not on the job then mistakes can happen.

Rushing and being stressed are both common reasons for accidents occurring involving vehicles. People take more risks, speed more (even with forklifts!) and being distracted while in charge of something heavy, metal and moving is a recipe for disaster.


One typo in a text message can make the whole ‘massage’ completely ‘beaningless’, or change the meaning of the instruction altogether. A big reason for mistakes occurring is not understanding what you’ve been asked to do, or thinking that you’ve understood but the person giving the instruction had something completely different in mind.

That’s why clear communication is essential to avoiding mistakes. When describing a task, you want done, be sure to make it simple to understand, and confirm with the individual(s) that they have understood correctly.

If you don’t fully understand what you’ve been asked to do, it’s better to ask than to do it wrong and hope for the best.

A great example of what I mean by this is the Channel 4 TV show Taskmaster. When the five contestants are given a set of instructions and asked to do something simple, they will all go about it in vastly different ways. This task is just about throwing a tea bag into a cup, and visually illustrates how easy it is for someone to interpret something differently, then get completely different results.

Be aware that there may be some swearing in this clip.

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