Like most of us, I often think back to my formative years and fondly remember things my parents said to me while I was growing up. Some are humorous while others are serious and have left a lasting impact…and occasionally, some are both.
My dad was a jack-of-all-trades. You know the type - he was one of those people who seemed to be knowledgeable about almost anything. I learned a lot from my father over the years - everything from how to wire an outlet to the proper way to sweat and solder copper plumbing; all of which have been useful skills over the years, allowing me to accomplish small jobs without spending money to have them done.
Anytime I’d work with my dad on one of these odd jobs, I would receive what I caringly referred to as “Walt’s Safety Briefing.” This talk covered more than just the importance of wearing PPE; it included anything and everything that could possibly go wrong during the project. If there was a way to be injured, my dad would make sure to cover it. Walt’s Safety Briefing usually kicked off with “If you don’t pay attention and do this right…” followed by three possible injuries:
“You’ll lose an eye,”
“You’ll lose a finger,” or
“It will kill you.” [My personal favorite.]
There was never anything between those three options. The briefing would always end the same way: “I see danger; others don’t see it, but I do.”
The phrase “I see danger” quickly became a running joke between me and my brother. Any time we would do something together that could result in an injury, one of us would warn the other of the risk and end the conversation by saying “I see danger.” While funny at the time, the more I learned about the root cause of many injuries, the more I realized my dad was actually on to something.
When examining the drivers of personal safety, awareness quickly shows up at the top of the list. It is a very intuitive concept: think about it as how much you notice and remember about your surroundings, especially as you go about your day-to-day routine. We all have some natural level of awareness that is personal to us. Like other traits that affect our safety behaviors, awareness varies from person to person. Two people can look at the same picture, watch the same movie, or perform the same task; but when questioned about what they observed, they’ll often give differing accounts. Yes, the basics of both will pretty much be the same; they will have retained a similar impression of the photo, memory of the plot, or recollection of the job. However, the devil is in the details. When asked about specific details, there will be evident discrepancies in what each observed and, most importantly, remembered. Sometimes the perceived facts vary between accounts, but more commonly, you will notice a differing level of detail across individual stories. Simply put, some people are just more aware than others.
An individual’s awareness is often the difference between avoiding and incurring injury. Perceiving the details in one’s environment and associating them to a possible risk allows the person to account for potential hazards and reduce exposure. It’s critical that individuals with a lower sense of awareness recognize this, and establish methods to compensate for it. This can be as easy as spending more time analyzing one’s surroundings or setting reminders in place to avoid exposures before starting to work. By doing so, they may also be able to “see danger” in their day-to-day.
See? Sometimes, when it comes to personal safety, father still knows best.