Being Aware

Many minor bumps and scrapes occur as a result of being preoccupied with various matters other than what one is supposed to be paying attention to.  For example, a person may be perfectly able to “walk and chew gum at the same time,” but trying to read a label while walking may end with a trip or a crash into a piece of furniture.

Unfortunately, lack of alertness is all too often responsible for more serious injury as well.  That reader/walker, for example, could be slammed with an opening door and suffer a concussion.  So enhancing safety by learning and practicing awareness is a form of protection, just as safety shoes and glasses are.   Two elements in that awareness are having a mental map and noticing one’s surroundings.

A Mental Map

Some safety experts outline the contents of your mental map by including not only your immediate work area and the equipment it contains but also the nearest first-and station, fire alarm and extinguisher, and exit.  Your job efficiency and personal comfort will benefit if you also know where to turn in tools to be repaired, where you are most likely to find your supervisor, and the locations of the nearest water fountain and rest room.  Other entries on the map would be areas where hand or motorized trucks are likely to be encountered, and places where there might be the possibility of materials falling from above.  If you work with chemicals, you’ll surely need to include the locations of the material safety data sheets, and the closest eyewash fountain and emergency shower.


As you go about your daily tasks, you will be aware of the mental map, but it’s also important for you to be noticing the ‘real world’ about you.  You need to notice clutter or spills on the floor, so that you can clear or clean them up or notify the appropriate person to do so.  If tools or materials are not where they belong, this should be reported as well, because someone not finding a needed tool may risk injury by using an inappropriate substitute.  The more you practice noticing, the more effective a member of the working team you will be.  You’ll notice a co-worker struggling with a heavy load and will lend a helping hand, which could enable him to avoid a stab of back pain.

Picture This

It is important for employees to learn and use their particular mental maps and routinely notice their surroundings.  One simple way to send the message is to prepare a “What’s Wrong with This Picture?” to circulate during a group session or post on the bulletin board.  It might show any one of numerous inappropriate-and unsafe-scenarios.  For example:

  • A ladder has been set up in front of an outward opening door.
  • Containers have been left in an exit route.
  • Workers are shown without protective equipment they should be wearing.
  • An extension cord is stretching across a pathway.
  • Storage cabinet doors have been left standing open.

When used in group sessions or training talks, members will be involved in noticing the errors or missing pieces, and can even be encouraged to suggest additional scenes.  After these sessions, inevitably people will be seen paying close attention to wherever they’re going and whatever they’re passing.