Situational awareness: Make safe choices

By Shawn Ankerich, ANAD Safety OfficeAugust 20, 2020

ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- I wonder how many people plan to have an accident or plan to get hurt. Do we get up in the morning and think “Well, I believe I will have a car accident on my way to work this morning” or “I think I’m going to break my arm today when I fall down the stairs coming back after lunch.”

The answer is none. No one ever plans to have an accident.

An accident, by definition, is an unfortunate incident which happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.

So, how do we avoid those unexpected, unwanted events?

For the two examples I gave – a car accident and a fall – we certainly want to drive defensively, slow down and pay closer attention at intersections or maybe use the hand rails while on the stairs.

It all comes down to having situational awareness.

For example, you have performed a task multiple times as part of your work or daily routine and you have never been injured. You may not always be so fortunate.

That’s where situational awareness can help. Situational awareness is critical for effective decision making; especially for making safe choices.

Situational awareness involves being aware of what is happening around you, taking everything into account and adjusting your behavior to reduce the risk of injury to you, your family or your coworkers.

You should make decisions based on real-time experience rather than past experience.

Throughout the day, remember to pause regularly to make a quick, mental assessment of your environment. That way, if conditions change, you can respond, helping to reduce the risk of injury to you and those around you.

What are potential roadblocks to situational awareness?

In a busy environment, we can be bombarded with stimuli.

It’s important to focus on what will impact your job to accurately reflect the reality of your work situation.

Some of the obstacles to understanding our situational awareness include:

• Faulty or hasty observations that lead to distorted perceptions (Rushing through the process)

• Complacency (Being so relaxed and settled we are blind to the big picture)

• Fatigue (Being mentally or physically exhausted)

• Poor communication (Either received or given)

Here are four steps to avoid injuries which I learned while attending a Mining Safety and Health Administration instructor course for the Department of Labor. The SLAM technique includes:

STOP and think before you act. Examine the task you are about to undertake. Stop whenever you are unsure and ask questions.

LOOK at your situation, task and work environment. Find the hazards to you and your coworkers. Are you protected? Immediately report anything you feel is unsafe to your supervisor.

ANALYZE the effects hazards present to you and your coworkers. Do you or your coworkers have the knowledge, training and tools to perform the task safely? You, your coworkers and your supervisor should participate in this assessment.

MANAGE your environment. If you feel unsafe or feel something is not right, stop work until you can find a solution to the problem. Discuss this with your supervisor and coworkers to rectify the unsafe situation.

When are the optimal times to use situational awareness on the job?

You must continually assess your work environment before and during every task, but it is especially critical during the following situations:

• When beginning work on a project, even if you have performed the task previously.

• If you think the work environment has changed since your last risk assessment.

• When working with new colleagues, because the task may be new to them.

• When working on high-hazard activities, such as with energy sources, heights and in confined spaces.

• When working on non-routine tasks or something outside of the norm.

Anytime you see something unsafe or spot a hazard, don’t walk by. Take the responsibility to deal with it immediately.

If you feel you are in immediate danger to your health or safety, stop work immediately and inform your supervisor or the Safety Office.

Always remember, if you see something, say something.