Situational awareness: A different way of assessing risk - Best practicesWritten by Guy Chenard 22 November 2011
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In my assessments of incident or accident investigations, most of the unsafe working conditions were linked to the environment element of the safety managed system. This is also consistent with the definition of situational awareness. I believe this is due to the fact that the environment can be more difficult to control as compared to the other elements of the safety managed system. People, procedures and hardware can be more easily managed by the line organization.
In considering the environment element of a safety managed system, bear in mind that it encompasses more than just outdoor issues:
• high winds, lightning, heat/cold, rain/snow
• adequate intensity (indoors), time of day (outdoors), visibility
Air quality conditions
• dust/particulate, gases, temperature/humidity, O₂ deficiency
Physical work conditions
• housekeeping, uneven surfaces, soil conditions, unsecured tools/equipment, heights
So, what is the best way to address situational awareness at work?
Remember that the workplace environment is where you’ll need to focus most of your attention to address situational awareness issues. You’ll need to maintain safety standards on your site to help prevent the creation of unsafe conditions and unsafe practices which can lead to incidents/accidents.
This can be accomplished by ensuring that your organization is complying with legislation, that they have an inspection process for tools/equipment, that they support supervisory leadership, that they maintain good communications, that they have a process for workplace observations, and that they follow their procedures.
Complying with legislation
• ensure that workers understand and comply with the OH&S Act / Regulations
• workers use or wear the personal protective equipment required by the employer
• report any contraventions or the existence of any hazard
• take every precaution reasonable under the circumstances for the protection of the worker
• ensure workers are using the right tool for the job
• ensure tools and equipment are inspected for defects prior to use
• do not modify tools or equipment
• remove defective tools or equipment from service
• ensure that supervisors receive appropriate training
• ensure that they conduct daily tailboards
• that they perform daily work site visits
• that they address issues collectively with workers (IRS)
• use the three-way communication process
• workers immediately report any issues or hazards to their supervisor
• workers take advantage of tailboard and safety meetings to discuss issues
• managers review relevant safety information with staff
Workplace observation process
• keep the work area clean (housekeeping)
• inspect the job site for potential issues prior to starting the work
• secure tools and equipment from falling
• be aware of other work groups in the area
• ensure that workers have access to relevant procedures on site
• workers must follow the lock-out/tag-out process
• review the H&S managed system for the organization (such as OHSAS 18001)
• manager keep the information relevant by updating the procedures on a regular basis
It is very easy to become complacent about unsafe conditions in the workplace since most of these conditions do not necessarily become an issue. However, the possibility that a dangerous situation can occur is too serious for an organization to ignore. Prevention that includes situational awareness is a much more comprehensive approach to safety.
Guy Chenard, CRSP, C.E.T., is a safety professional with Ontario Power Generation.
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Published in Hygiene Stories