Practice Situational Awareness During the Workday

We should all take on the responsibility for our coworkers’ safety and well-being

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Maybe you have heard of the phrase “situational awareness” recently. It has been used here and there in different settings and maybe you understand what it refers to, but do you know what it means?

Situational awareness can be useful in many areas of our lives. From going out shopping, being on vacation, being at the airport, driving our cars, walking in our neighborhoods, going to the park and answering an unexpected knock at the door. We can get complacent when nothing in our lives ever seems to be out of place. This is where employing situational awareness can be a great benefit in preventing incidents from happening whether at work or in our daily lives.

The definition of situational awareness has three parts: (1) perception of the elements in the environment, (2) comprehension of the situation and (3) projection of future status. 

Perception – What information do I need?

Comprehension – What does this information mean to me?

Projection – What do I think could happen next?

Situational awareness has been recognized as a critical, yet often elusive, foundation for successful decision-making across a broad range of situations, many of which involve the protection of life and property. In the workplace, situational awareness is a great tool in injury prevention.

Simply put, situational awareness is knowing what is going on around us. What are the hazards? Understanding the consequences of our actions. Knowing how to respond should a critical situation arise. Knowing how to work safely in the environment we find ourselves in each day, whether it be in the office or in the field excavating a trench.

Simplifying the term situational awareness a little further, the following color codes give us a guideline so we know what state of situational awareness we might be in:

White — The lowest level. You are basically unaware of what is going on around you and you are not ready for anything to happen. Reasons affecting your status could be fatigue, stress, distractions or apathy.

Yellow — You are alert and aware yet relaxed. You are familiar with your surroundings and the employees and visitors who are in your area. You know where the emergency response equipment is located just in case, and you are prepared if needed to respond.

Orange — You are in a state of heightened awareness. You sense something is not right. This is the time to make important decisions in case something must be done. This is also the time to mitigate the situation if needed.

Red — Something has happened! You are taking decisive and immediate action. You recognize a threat is ongoing and you are responding to limit the damage done and promote recovery.

Black — Something is happening and you are now in panic mode because you are unprepared and do not know how to respond. There is a breakdown of mental and physical performance.

Sadly, too many of us live in the “white” status far too often. We have become so comfortable in our everyday lives that we tend to go through the motions of daily living whether it is at work or at home or in our communities. Therefore, when hazardous situations arise, we are “shocked” and either do not know what to do or panic and do nothing at all.

Situational awareness should be important to all of us, and it is important that we are aware of the potential hazards in our work environment. We all should take on the responsibility for each other’s safety and wellbeing while at work and when we are out in public and at home as well.

Ways to improve situational awareness

Do not allow yourself to be distracted. When you allow yourself to become distracted, you take away any chance at a proper response. Any response is then delayed and, in some cases, too late. Keep your phone someplace where it is not a distraction or temptation to constantly look at.

Have a plan, just in case. Always ask the “What if?” questions regarding your work situation and tasks at hand. What if the trench collapses? What if another employee passes out in a confined space? Have you been trained in the proper response to these major incidents?

Scan your area. Be alert and stay alert to what could potentially be a hazardous situation. Look for things that are out of the ordinary or just not right. An unusual loud noise in your equipment could be an early warning sign that failure is about to occur.

Have a designated escape route. If there is the potential for a situation to go bad, always have a plan of escape to minimize the danger and/or damage.

Train and practice being situationally aware. Safety training does not do anyone any good if it is ignored or just so routine employees doze off during the training and do not hear important information. Practice helps employees retain the training.


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