“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give… stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” ? Leo Tolstoy, Essays, Letters and Miscellanies
Tolstoy's advice from the early 1900's is even more compelling today than it was at the beginning of the second industrial revolution. There are many more demands for your attention both at work and at home. These demands compete for your attention at an unprecedented rate resulting in overstimulation and lack of focus.
The “A” in SAFE stands for Awareness. Being aware of not just your surroundings but of your relationship to the surface conditions, the environment, and the footwear-surface interaction are critical for preventing slips and falls.
Overall awareness is comprised of three components:
Perception: How accurate is the “picture” of the surroundings your senses created.
Comprehension: Our understanding of what in that picture are threats, hazards, or assets.
Decision to Action: What you are going to do with the information.
Your perception and comprehension are key to your decision. In the examples below, the hazard remains the same, but either perception or comprehension changes to produce a different decision:
I can see the ice in my path; I could fall, I will choose a path that is better maintained.
Perception is good and comprehension of the hazard moves the decision to limit risk.
I can see the ice in my path; I've got good balance and I've not fallen before. I will travel over the ice but walk more slowly.
Perception is good, comprehension moves the decision to risk taking.
Successful navigation of the hazard will reinforce the comprehension and drive future decisions.
It's dark, I can't see any ice; I will keep going on my original path but walk more slowly.
Lack of perception causes risk taking, but comprehension leads to caution.
Adding a distraction such as a cell phone into the scenarios can change everything. In the second or third example, distraction can cause you to forget the path has ice on it in the first place. This can cause complacency in your gait and speed of travel. In the first scenario, distraction might slow down reaction time enough to prevent a decision from happening until you engaged the hazard.
The list of distractions that prevent us from maintaining our awareness of our surroundings is almost limitless. Some distractions are obvious such as cell phones, texting, heavy traffic, or crisis situations. Some distractions can sneak up on you. Cluttered work areas, changing work space configuration or use, dark areas, exhaustion, fatigue, or even eyesight changes are all examples.
Here are some tips to increase awareness and avoid distraction:
Email, text, and make calls when stationary.
Keep work areas clear from slip/trip hazards.
Focus on your travel not the destination.
Change gait and speed when surfaces are known or expected to be slippery.
Provide adequate lighting for the employee walking surfaces.
Use signage for temporary awareness of slippery areas. For example: Ice Alert.
Require high visibility clothing for workers in traffic areas.
Consider training for staff walking in areas with constant slip hazards. Check out the Slip Simulator video or website.
Look for more information on Slip and Fall Prevention in the next MEMIC Safety Blog on SAFE when we take on the “F” word - Footwear.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Koch is a Safety Management Consultant with MEMIC. He holds certifications from the National Ski Patrol, the Professional Ski Patrol Association, and the Professional Ski Instructors of America. Peter is an authorized instructor in both the OSHA 10-hour Construction and the OSHA General Industry Outreach Training Programs. To read more of MEMIC's blog, click here.
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