January 4, 2023

How to Improve Situational Awareness

Have you ever walked into your office or strolled a job site and noticed something is 'off?' Maybe there's a new piece of equipment lying around where it shouldn't be. Or, after a snowfall, you find water pooling in a hallway.

When you or your employees see something amiss, it's likely someone will say something.

That's situational awareness, says Pinnacol Safety Learning Specialist Monica Cabrera. "It's being aware of what's going on around you as you're going about your day and being conscious of things that may seem unsafe."

For many, the term may make you think of high-stakes circumstances. But, situational awareness is just as important when your workers are at any job site.

Being aware can help prevent accidents and improve safety; here's how to approach it.

What is situational awareness?

"I like to think about walking around your house in the dark," says Cabrera when describing situational awareness.

"You know where things should be, but sometimes there's that unknown, a toy left on the ground, or an open drawer, and walking into those can cause an accident. So you try to be a little extra aware."

The same concept can translate to offices, factories, and other worksites.

For example, most employees move around their jobs without much thought; they've done it so many times. But suddenly, one day, something may look or feel different, and it could be a potentially unsafe situation.

Being aware of such changes and on alert for danger can help prevent accidents and injuries.

Why is situational awareness important?

The primary goal of situational awareness is to identify potential hazards in the workplace and improve workplace safety.

A key component of situational awareness is your sense of safety and changes around you, says Cabrera. That sense can also extend to your co-workers.

Being aware and speaking up when something doesn't feel right or seems unsafe helps protect everyone, even if that potential danger may not apply directly to you.

For example, slips, trips, and falls make up the vast majority of workers' compensation claims.

Being situationally aware can mean:

  • Keeping your eye on the path also used by others to ensure it's clear
  • Notifying someone if a handrail is loose on the stairwell
  • Having the proper tools on hand to help prevent falls

Doing each can help reduce injury and workers' compensation claims in the workplace.

How to encourage situational awareness in the workplace

Since situational awareness is a key factor in improving safety, it's important to encourage it among employees.

It's all a part of building a safety culture in the workplace. Additional strategies include:

Reducing multitasking

Accidents often happen because someone is distracted. Help encourage employees to focus on the task at hand by removing distractions or requests for multitasking so they don't feel rushed on the job.

Practicing "See Something, Say Something"

If something doesn't look right, say something. Part of that is empowering employees, says Cabrera. "They need to know they have the power to stop work, safely remove the hazard, or tell someone else about the hazard if they see something is not right."

Communicating changes

Occasionally there are days when something is different or there are changes around the workplace or job site, such as after a snowstorm. Let your workers know ahead of time so they have a little more awareness that day.

Implementing proper training

Good training goes a long way toward helping prevent accidents and injuries on the job. If you have a new employee make sure you're on the same page with how things work and get them the training for the tools or equipment they'll use.

Building curiosity

Every worker is different, but boosting a sense of curiosity in your workers is a great way to build some situational awareness.

For example, encourage them to ask questions during the day, such as:

  • Does something feel off?
  • Is this safe?
  • Should I act now?

Becoming and remaining situationally aware

Fostering awareness about your surroundings not only helps prevent issues but also cultivates a culture of safety for everyone.

"It's really about taking a step back and making sure you're not on autopilot, but noticing what's different during the day," says Cabrera. And being conscious of your surroundings is something every employee needs to practice.

Pinnacol Assurance has the largest and most experienced safety team in Colorado ready to help our customers identify and eliminate workplace hazards. Learn more about Situational awareness video blogs:

Situational Awareness Presented by Xavier Gonzalez

Situational Awareness Presented by Joel Nobles