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Why Situational Awareness is Critical in Construction Work



When you enter your job site, how much do you notice about your surroundings? Can you instantly tell when something is different? Do you pick up on subtle changes, as well as the movement and behaviors of objects and people around you?


If so, you have situational awareness — and that's critical to worksite safety.

Everyone on a job site is responsible for safety. The more changes and conditions you can detect, the sooner you can identify potential risks. The more nuanced your perception, the faster you can respond to hazardous situations.


Safety protocols work best when everyone has a good grasp of their surroundings. Here's why situational awareness is a vital skill for construction workers.


What is Situational Awareness?

Situational awareness is the perception and understanding of one's environment, including structures, moving objects, people, and changes. It allows you to put yourself in context and identify potential events. Rather than focusing on one thing, you're being mindful of everything around you and how it interacts.


An excellent example of situational awareness is when you are driving a vehicle. You must be aware of the vehicles around you, the traffic lights and signs, your vehicle’s speed, your passengers, and more. Your brain reads all these cues and turns them into a complete picture of the situation. With practice, you learn to respond quickly when someone cuts you off or traffic abruptly stops.


Situational awareness may sound like multitasking, but it's more a matter of mindfulness. In situational awareness, you detect multiple events and changes but still focus on one task at a time. In fact, situational awareness is more difficult when you attempt to multitask because you're using all your mental energy trying to split your focus.


Why is Situational Awareness Important on a Worksite?

Practicing situational awareness on a job site can mean the difference between being involved in an incident and staying safe. Most construction-related deaths and injuries result from falls, object strikes, electrocutions, and entrapment. These are all more likely when workers aren’t aware of their surroundings.


For example, let's say someone has left a metal tool box unsecured on the scaffolding. A worker begins to walk across but trips over the box, which falls and hits someone working below. Situational awareness could help prevent this incident.


Tasks associated with our line of work have an “acceptable risk level,” but many risk factors can be avoided. Safety protocols are only part of the picture. In other words, accepting the inherent risk doesn't equate to a lack of personal responsibility for the work going on around you.

That's because hazards come in many forms. The key to preventing an incident is to notice objects (stationary or moving) and anticipate events.


When paired with a robust site safety plan, situational awareness helps you detect inconsistencies (e.g. someone not wearing PPE) and changes, and then respond with the appropriate protocols.


How Can You Develop Situational Awareness?

You can increase your situational awareness by practicing detection skills. Try watching videos of card tricks or other illusionist acts. See if you can figure out the secret. Often, there's a sleight-of-hand involved!


At work, keep your eyes and ears open. Take a look at everything around you and be sure to listen and participate in the Job Hazard Analysis covered daily before starting any task. Your brain is more likely to absorb critical information if you've just been briefed about it.


Situational awareness helps you sort through a wide variety of sights and sounds, and smells, but it's no cure for distraction. Take note of distractions found in your work area, including mobile devices. Allowing yourself to become distracted opens the opportunity for a negative effect. Just look at those you see on the roadway texting while driving. Their situational awareness is low — which means yours must be even higher.


Multitasking is also a form of distraction. So, remain focused on one task at a time, but leave your perception open to your surroundings.


Conclusion: Situational Awareness Saves Lives

Staying aware of your surroundings can go a long way in preventing an incident. Safety protocols and procedures help, but ultimately, it comes down to how well everyone can detect potential hazards.


Devote some time to refining your situational awareness. It's the most valuable skill you'll bring to the job site.


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