Situational Awareness for Workplace Safety
What is situational awareness and how does it fit into workplace safety? The American Psychological Association defines situation awareness as:
“conscious knowledge of the immediate environment and the events that are occurring in it. Situation awareness involves perception of the elements in the environment, comprehension of what they mean and how they relate to one another, and projection of their future states.”
That’s a really thorough answer, but is it really that helpful? Let’s try something else.
Situational awareness is the ability to understand and anticipate potential threats in your surroundings. It involves being aware of what is happening around you, analyzing the information you gather, and making decisions based on that analysis. In other words, it’s about paying attention to your environment and being proactive in protecting yourself from potential dangers.
The TL: DR version: It’s paying attention and applying your life experience and training to interpret what you see and how to react.
Why Does it Matter?
Situational awareness is important for personal safety because it can help you avoid potentially dangerous situations. By being aware of your surroundings, you can identify potential threats early on and take action to avoid them. For example, if you’re walking down a dimly lit alley and notice a group of people approaching you, you can choose to cross the street or turn around and go the other way.
In the Workplace or Not
Many professionals find themselves alone with customers/clients on a regular basis. Real estate agents showing a home for example. Others may find themselves with clients who are angry and potentially violent, such as law offices or HR professionals. Even those who aren’t in those situations still benefit from developing good situational awareness. Walking to their car at the mall, attending a large event or traveling for work are just a few places it can pay off big.
Prevention > Reaction
Street criminals are, for the most part, ambush predators. Being aware of your surroundings makes you less vulnerable to surprise attacks. If you’re paying attention to what’s going on around you, you’re less likely to be caught off guard by an attacker. You may notice a suspicious person lingering nearby or hear footsteps behind you, allowing you to act before the attacker is able to strike. Prevention is always better than reaction. When you perceive the threat early, more options are available to you.
Another benefit of situational awareness is that it can help you stay calm in an emergency. If you’re able to assess a situation quickly and accurately, you can make decisions more quickly and effectively. Again, seeing the situation early allows you more time, so you feel less rushed. As a bonus, you help others. We teach that calm is contagious. Your calmness can keep others from panicking and acting irrationally.
As the name implies, awareness needs to shift based on the situation. I was recently in Vienna and our tour guide warned us about pickpockets. That means I’m looking for indicators and circumstances much different than I would be looking for if I were hiking in a national park. Learning to understand what threats can potentially be present helps you understand what you are looking for.
Developing Situational Awareness
So how do you develop situational awareness? One key is to pay attention to your surroundings at all times. This means staying off your phone, not having in earbuds in, or other distractions when you’re out in public. Instead, focus on what’s going on around you. Take note of people’s behavior and body language. If someone seems suspicious or out of place, trust your instincts and avoid them if possible.
Besides being aware of your surroundings and potential threats, it’s also important to have a plan of action in case of an emergency. This might mean knowing the exits in a building you’re visiting, preferably more than one exit. It could mean knowing how to operate a fire extinguisher. Or the location of the AED.
It could even mean knowing the emergency number where you are. As I mentioned earlier, we were recently on a trip to Europe. While we are used to 911 being the one number to call for emergencies here in the US, it’s not true there. Using 112 is now the standardized emergency services number in the European Union.
Aware, Not Paranoid
Remember, situational awareness is important, but that doesn’t mean you need to be paranoid. It’s all about finding the right balance. You don’t want to be the person who’s constantly jumping at shadows or seeing danger around every corner. After all, there’s a fine line between being aware and being overly anxious. The good news is that the more you practice awareness, the more automatic it becomes. Do you remember the first time you drove a car versus after 5 years of experience? Yeah, it’s like that.
Being aware and having a plan is part of being prepared. Preparation leads to confidence and that’s the opposite of fear.
Ultimately, situational awareness is an essential skill for personal safety. By paying attention to your environment and being proactive in identifying potential threats, you can stay safe in a variety of situations. Whether you’re walking home alone at night, traveling to an unfamiliar city, or simply going about your daily routine, developing your situational awareness skills can help you stay safe and confident. That not only makes you safer, but it helps you do your job better.
If you’d like to learn more about getting training for your workplace, contact us at Better Protectors. We’d love to find out how we can help.