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Situational Awareness: Defining It & Enhancing It

Has your mind ever wandered while you were driving down the highway? Have you ever been so lost in thought that you drove right past your exit ramp? When I ask people in safety workshops to raise their hand if they ever zoomed past a highway exit because they weren’t paying attention, I typically see 100% of the people raise their hand (and the people who don’t raise their hand were probably not paying attention to the question!)

Do you realize that in this kind of situation, your mind is an obstacle to optimum performance and safety?  We sometimes get so distracted by our thoughts that we miss our cue to exit even when the exit signs and lane markers are in place. The external-world distractions cannot be blamed for that kind of mistake; rather, it’s the internal-world that is the primary cause of this safety problem. Our minds get led away from paying attention to what is happening here-and-now and put us at-risk for neglecting important signals for action.

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Employees Don’t Want to be Praised; They Want to be Noticed

The conventional perspective on positive reinforcement (words like recognize, acknowledge, compliment, reward are incorrectly uses as synonyms for positive reinforcement) is that you approach someone with a piece of positive information about something they have done and say, “John, you really did some good work on that job.”

It sounds great but unfortunately does not take into consideration the reality of the workplace. A manager or supervisor who has a history of being negative or has spent no time getting to know the employee such that they have no relationship, can create a negative employee reaction. The statement seems contrived and manipulative; that is, it is perceived to be provided with the objective of wanting something additional from the employee. At best it is perceived to express an underlying agenda. Often these kind of statements contradict the employees own sense of self-worth.

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Three Things You Can Do Now to Stay Safe at Work

Most companies try to keep you safe. Safety training, protective equipment, guards, rules and regulations – all devoted to protecting you from injury. Then there are safety initiatives like Behavior Based Safety; a great process for helping you manage what you and your coworkers do on the job to stay safe.

What none of these worthy, preventive activities do is manage what’s going on in your head; only you can do that. What you are thinking and feeling are private events that only you have access to. Unfortunately, most people do not purposefully manage what they are thinking and feeling. It just happens and they roll with it.

Most working people are exposed to hazards and things that can go wrong in spite of everything management, engineering, equipment guards, rules, and PPE attempt to prevent. The workplace is dangerous; in many jobs, you can get killed or disabled in a few seconds.

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Preventing Serious Injuries and Fatalities in Non-Routine Activities

Safety programs are more successful at reducing minor injuries than serious injuries or fatalities. Safety professionals are turning their attention to this frustrating phenomenon – overall, the rate of recordable injuries is declining, but the rate of serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs) is essentially flat. Interestingly, organizations that experience SIFs often have low recordable injury rates.

How can this be? One answer is that the causes of SIFs, and the situations in which they occur, are different than those of minor injuries. SIFs occur most often during Non-Routine Activities. Non-Routine activities are potentially dangerous activities that are performed infrequently, such as working in confined space, working with high voltage, working at heights, moving heavy objects, performing maintenance during shutdowns, or retooling.

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