• Gary Clarkson

Situational awareness - if you don't like the solution, change the problem

A common theme I am seeing on construction sites is a lack of awareness of what is happening in the immediate and surrounding work area.

People appear to be so caught up in their own wee world that they can't see how what they are doing is affecting others; or, they don't appreciate the harm they are being exposed as result of what other people are doing.

It's almost like they are in working a bubble.

A couple of recent examples which I witnessed demonstrate what Im talking about:

1. Heating and Ventilation engineer preparing pipework is welding pipes.

He is using appropriate PPE (although the control of fumes could be better - but that's for another day).

No welding screen is present to protect the workers around him from experiencing welding flash. And he has setup immediately beside the only entrance into the space.

2. A builder, using a nailgun, is wearing eye and hearing protection. Good on ya mate.

His colleague, working not 2 metres away from him has no protection from noise whatsoever.

It gets worse, in the room directly below the plywood floor is a sparky pre-wiring his cables. No consideration of the noise or the potential of a nail coming though the plywood ceiling.

This got me thinking,

Why are people failing to perceive the risks they are being exposed to by others or that they are exposing others to?

If we take a look at other external environments like the standard of driving on our public road network, where there seems to be a complete disregard for the impact of our driving habits and decision making on the people around us.

It seems to me like our problem goes much deeper than the workplace.

I think we have spent so much time hammering home that we to think about what we are doing and make sure that we do them in such a way to prevent us harming ourselves, that we have missed the bigger picture. We have lost a skill that was hardwired back in the day when situational awareness meant avoiding being eaten by a wild animal.

Situational awareness is being aware of what is happening around you in terms of:

  • where you are,

  • where you are supposed to be,

  • whether anyone or anything around you is a threat to your health and safety, and/or;

  • whether you are a threat to anyone else's health and safety.

Our knowledge, experience, education and maturity enables us to understand what is going on around us and helps us to determine if it is safe - This means that everyone’s situational awareness is likely to be different.

We use our situational awareness to make decisions and share information with others. However, our situational awareness is only as accurate as our own reading of the situation, so what we think is happening may not accurately reflect reality.

How we read a situation can be influenced by many things such as the type of information we have been given, our own knowledge and experience and the presence of any distractions in the workplace.

Needless to say it takes a bit of practice to develop good situational awareness skills. But there are some techniques which if practiced can make us a lot more aware of what's going on around us.

Form a habit

Get in the habit of regularly pausing to make a quick mental assessment of your working environment. It only takes a couple of seconds.

Think about:

  • Is there anything around you that poses a threat to your health and safety and if so, to what extent?

  • Are there people around you that can be affected by what you are doing?

  • Is the threat big enough that you should stop working?

  • Is there anything you can do to safely reduce that threat in order that you can carry on working safely?

I was taught a technique many years ago when I was but a lad which is simple and has served well.

I'm not sure of the origins of the SLAM technique, but put simply it is:

Stop - Look - Assess - Manage


Engage your brain before your hands.

Look at the environment, the task and what is happening around you.


Identify the hazards and risks to you and your team mates or other people in the area.


Consider the effects that the hazards and risks could have on you and the people around you. Take into account the equipment, normal practice and procedures and the environment.

Ask yourself; do I have the knowledge, training and tools to do the task safely, are the people around me aware of what I am doing, do I really know what the people around me are up to.


If you feel unsafe change something.

Stop working or if you see that someone else could be affected by what is happening - take responsibility and deal with it before you or someone else is harmed.

With a bit of practice you can use this technique in the workplace, on the road or anywhere where you are presented with risk.

Please feel free to share with your workers, its a simple but effective tool.

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