Over the past year, employee safety has focused on Covid-19. Organizations have worked hard to develop Covid-19 protocols for office workers and field/jobsite workers. State and local mandates and regulations changed frequently early in the pandemic, after which safety personnel implemented new measures to conform to the new reality of conducting business. Fortunately, approved vaccines — and increasing numbers of our population receiving these vaccines, will help reduce risk.

One thing that has not changed is the need for construction jobsite safety and situational awareness, and workers must not let their guard down while continuing to focus on Covid-19 protocols.

A common definition of situational awareness comes from psychology: “Situational awareness can be defined simply as knowing what is going on around us, or — more technically — as the perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status in the near future” (www.rcog.org.uk). The term has roots in the history of military theory. It is recognizable in Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” The term can be traced to WWI , where it was recognized as a crucial skill for military aircraft crews.

By definition, situational awareness breaks down into three segments:

  • Perception of the elements in the environment (work space or area)
  • Comprehension of the situation (what your actions are)
  • Projection of future status (what could happen)

The topic of situational awareness and safety is especially important to me because of a recent experience on a jobsite. In late 2020, I visited a drilling site to provide product usage training. A lot of my recent training has been virtual, since jobsite visits have been limited in order to keep all employees safe. However, on-site training is still required, and we strictly adhere to all Covid-19 protocols in place at the state/provincial level, as well as additional protocols that may be required.

The first hour I was on location, I spent time surveying the site and talking to the safety personnel to fully understand required safety protocols. Once I was comfortable that the site was safe, I conducted the training required.

During that same week, there were fatal construction site accidents in the same city. Days after my visit, one of the crew members at the site I visited was struck by a vehicle while helping unload a truck. Situational awareness does not stop while working at a construction site, as there are many dangers, including distracted drivers.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, each year over 20,000 workers are injured in road construction work zones. Between 2003 and 2008, these injuries were caused by:

  • Contact with objects or equipment (35%)
  • Slips, trips or falls (20%)
  • Overexertion (15%)
  • Transportation incidents (12%)
  • Exposure to harmful substances or environments (5%)

(Source: https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/workersafety/index.htm)

I urge crews to discuss situational awareness at every safety meeting. Point out what machinery will be working on the jobsite and what hazards to look out for. Discuss effective traffic control in and around the jobsite. Be aware of your actions and the actions of others.

Everyone deserves to go home at the end of the workday in the same condition in which they arrived — without exception. Finally, let’s hope 2021 will be a better year for everyone: stay safe, follow protocols and safety standards, and we’ll see each other on a jobsite again.