Situational awareness: An important component of workplace safety training
by JONATHAN ANDERSON, Lieutenant | Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office
Safety, security and violence at the workplace are ever present concerns for the contemporary municipal workforce, regardless of occupation. While it is true that some occupations, depending on their nature, are more prevalent to exposure and are more experienced, trained and equipped to respond to potential or kinetic risks; the chance of exposure for many occupations on any given day, moment or encounter are real.
Attention towards situational awareness can have a very real effect upon recognizing and responding to a threat and minimizing risk factors. Hence, strategies towards addressing situational awareness are an important component of safety/security/workplace violence training.
First responder professions realize that people will respond to stressful situations depending on how they are trained and practiced. While formal training is an important employee development strategy, informal training through practice is just as, if not more, important, practical and dynamic.
Basically, there are three factors that affect the escalation or de-escalation of a pending or developing risk episode:
- Human Factor – This factor involves the mental, physical and emotional status of the primary and secondary persons involved in the encounter. This includes parties immediately involved, witnesses, bystanders and others called upon to respond.
- Environmental Factor – This factor involves familiarity and the condition of the immediate physical environment, material items introduced into the environment and the scope of jurisdiction and control upon the environment.
- Situational Factor – This factor involves the stress levels associated with the circumstances presented.
All of these factors are assessable, flexible and can be manipulated to some degree in preparation for, or in response to, threat risk. Training, experience and practice towards addressing these factors increase the chances of a desired outcome, ultimately diminishing threat and minimizing injury.
There are two types of responses to a threat once it manifests itself: (1) an immediate emotional response — commonly referred to as fight, flight or surrender — or (2) a planned cognizant response that enables a person to respond with assertiveness, decisiveness and composure. The planned response is fostered through training and experience. Incident reviews and strategies towards situational awareness training enhance the planned response effectiveness.
Another human condition that situational awareness training defeats is “unintentional blindness.” This attention phenomenon spotlights a person’s attention upon prioritized tasks and puts into the attention span’s peripheral vision things one doesn’t expect. In essence, if one doesn’t expect a threat from the human/environmental/ situational factors, the degree of recognizing and responding to the threat are diminished, and the position of disadvantage and potential consequences are increased. Situational awareness training prioritizes attention focus upon the various threat risks potentially encountered. Subsequently, recognition of and response to risk gravitates towards a desired trained result.
Situational awareness training strategies should be diverse, dynamic and practical. Consideration should be extended towards tapping into resources that possess both direct and tangent relationships with the training audience. This enhances training effectiveness and encourages a shared notion that what is everybody’s business — safety and security on the work scene — is everybody’s responsibility.
Jonathan Anderson is a lieutenant with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office in New York and is currently assigned as the facilities security supervisor for the county’s municipal business complex in downtown Syracuse, N.Y.
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