Practical Situational Awareness

I’ve written before about human performance tools for high hazard work. These are practices that help you ensure resilient performance and prevent consequential mistakes. Some of the common, well understood methods are Self Checking, Questioning Attitude, and Conservative Decision Making. Another tool is often mentioned—Situational Awareness—but unfortunately, such mentions are all too often inside of incident/accident reports… as in “loss of Situational Awareness”. The outcomes of such instances are frequently tragic.

In general, the concept of Situational Awareness seems simple: be aware of your surroundings, conscious of what’s happening around you, and prepared to take action. This is easier said than done! Perhaps our cognitive architecture isn’t well set up to remain situationally aware when we’re deeply engaged in other activity.

Situational Awareness is different.
~ You can’t hold it in your hand.
~ You can’t see or hear it being performed.
~ It’s not a step-by-step process you can follow or teach.
~ You can’t tell when you have it… or lose it.

Jake Mazulewicz, Ph.D

As the preceding quote describes, Situational Awareness is not like other error reduction tools. When you’re focused on something, it’s too easy to remain unaware of potentially dangerous things going on around you.

This recent article by Dr. Mazulewicz is possibly the best I’ve read on the subject of Situational Awareness. It manages to be both concise and comprehensive, while providing a practical model and recommendations for investigating its use in your environment. I highly recommend it.

How Technical Teams Can Improve Situational Awareness with the Scan & Focus Model


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