Over the past few years, the topic of safety on construction projects has gone from an afterthought to now the #1 priority. In addition to the required monthly safety meetings that we still attend, the majority of the other project meetings now begin with some sort of Safety Share. Over time, it has become challenging to find a safety topic to discuss that is both interesting and engaging. (On a side note, the TXAPA website has entire section devoted to Safety Share topics.)
I've lost count of the number of safety meetings that I've been a part of the last few years that involved someone reading a handout on the topic of situational awareness. I've also noticed that most of the time, the audience is not really listening or paying attention. It is likely they have heard some of these safety topics so often, they have become numb to the information. As a result, they are not benefitting from the safety topic.
Does that mean we need to stop discussing situational awareness? Absolutely not. But I do think we need to approach these topics differently to drive more engagement.
In our safety meetings, a better approach might include providing examples or experiences of past incidents where having some situational awareness would have helped the situation. To further drive engagement, give attendees the opportunity to share some of their previous experiences, as well.
To this day, I can recall a story I was told early in my career about a Contractor Superintendent and TxDOT Inspector having a heated discussion about some paving issues on the job. The Superintendent was mad, turned around, inadvertently walked into the lane of traffic, and was struck by a passing vehicle. An absolutely horrible and tragic accident; just hearing the story gave me chills. Now, another lecture on situational awareness might prevent a similar incident from happening in the future, but hearing that story resonated with me throughout my career. I've said numerous times over the years to folks on a project, “Can't we find a better place to have this conversation?” and did so because I remembered that story.
Another benefit from sharing past incidents is that “once-in-a-lifetime” incident that somehow manages to happen again. I recall watching hot mix on I-20 over 25 years ago, and my favorite place to stand was next to the barrier rail we had placed to separate the traffic from the laydown operation. I never thought anything about the location until a few years later when I heard a story about a road worker being struck and killed by a piece of rubber that came off a passing truck tire. With the volume of truck traffic on I-20, it made me wish someone had shared that story a little sooner so I could have found a better place to stand.
In conclusion, periodically sharing examples of past incidents in your safety discussions is a good way to get folks more involved, make them think a little about the safety topic, and prevent future incidents by not repeating mistakes from the past.