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A is for Awareness and Accident Prevention

May 29, 2012

In a previous blog, we talked about how Staying in control is related to your safety. People who have control over their life and emotions are much more likely to avoid accidents and incidents.  However, as we’ve been discussing, that is only part of the equation.  If you are not also Aware of your surroundings, you can still get hurt. People who have higher Awareness are more likely to prevent safety issues before they occur. There are three factors that contribute to this Awareness:

1)      Attention to detail. Are you the kind of person who notices that pictures hang crooked in a doctor’s office? Do you find typos in books and magazines? If so, you have a high attention to detail. People who notice these sorts of things are also more likely to notice things like – a nail in the tire of their car, a loose leg on a chair, or a large dead tree branch in the tree directly above where they’ve chosen to pitch their tent for the night. For example, here is a scenario that could end in two ways. Scenario 1 – Joe notices a nail in his tire. He puts on the spare, takes the tire with the nail to the shop and has it repaired. An inconvenience, but no one is hurt. Scenario 2 – Bob doesn’t notice the nail in his tire. He heads off on a road trip and his tire goes flat on the way; or worse, he has a dangerous blow out. Joe was able to prevent himself from being in a dangerous situation. Bob may not have gotten hurt, but the potential was there.

2)      Cognitive Failure. Have you ever walked into a room to get something and then you just forgot what you were going to get? “What was I doing?” you may ask yourself.  Or, you may be driving down the highway, lost in thought, when you suddenly realize you cannot remember the last several miles.  You may not want to admit it, but I think we’ve all done these kinds of things at one time or another. For lack of a better term to describe this concept, cognitive failure is like “spacing out.” Sometimes we get distracted or our minds are preoccupied by something else and we don’t pay close enough attention to what we are doing. When we are not aware of what we are doing on the job, it can create an opportunity for accidents or injuries.

3)      Working Memory. In today’s high tech world, we are bombarded with information from multiple stimuli on a regular basis. Right now, I’m writing this blog while also managing two different e-mail accounts, an office phone, a cell phone, and an instant messenger. We are constantly splitting our attention between multiple sources. A lot of attention has been paid lately to cell phone use (texting or talking) while driving. Being distracted while driving increases our chances of failing to see something in the road or noticing that the car in front of you has braked. Our minds can only handle and attend to so much information (our working memory). When our brains get full, we are prone to making mistakes and increasing our accident exposure.

In sum, you cannot prevent an accident from happening if you do not notice a hazard exists or may exist in the first place. The three factors described above contribute to peoples’ Awareness of their surroundings.  They influence how likely someone will see (and then prevent) an unsafe situation. Next time, we’ll discuss how an individual’s attitude toward rules also contributes to safety. 

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Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. is the Manager of Product Development at PSI. She is an expert in the design, development and validation of psychological assessment tools. An integral member of PSI since 2000, Amie has led the development of numerous competency-based assessments, including online in-baskets, job simulations and motivational fit instruments.