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Observing Safety – Keep Your Head on a Swivel

- December 19, 2019 by Diego Garcia (View all posts by Diego)

When I played safety on my high school football team, the defensive coach consistently drilled the concept of keeping my head on a swivel. This simply meant to keep looking left and right as I backpedaled to keep the ball and the receivers in my field of view. A few months after graduation, I was off to boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Due to my uncanny luck, that day was September 11, 2001. My comprehensive training of keeping my head on a swivel was put into action.

Joining the Marines and then deploying to the battlefield shortly after was certainly a great way to have certain traits, for better or worse, ingrained into the fiber of your being. The Marines call this muscle memory. Muscle memory can be easily described as the instant reaction you have to a fly landing on you—you swat it away without thinking! These subconscious instant reactions turn into the tools that one relies on to safely and effectively navigate the battlefield. As a civilian, one is far away from a battlefield, but that doesn’t mean that one is safe and away from danger. In today’s day and age, we’ve certainly witnessed danger unsuspectedly sneak up on people at concerts and at work. Whenever I am out and about, or sitting at a restaurant, ensuring I get eyes on the people near me is necessary so I can quickly assess their threat to me. Therefore, continuing to practice situational awareness hasn’t only been crucial for me when I am out in public events, it has also helped me to be a more focused risk management professional.  

While visiting clients, I take a similar slow and systematic approach like how I was taught; I stop, scan one sector at a time, observe, analyze (eliminate the threat if needed), then move and repeat. As a leader in your organization, you can learn from my approach and follow similar techniques to get a better understanding of your safety program effectiveness. 

I first begin my observations at the front gate; I look to see if the client takes pride in how they present themselves, or are the premises suffering the consequences of time. I look to see if there are sufficient parking spaces, or are employees forced to double park. As I enter the building, I look to see if I am immediately greeted, or if employees have their heads buried in a cluttered desk. While with upper management, I take note of how they speak to subordinates and the reaction their staffs provides; are employees smiling or do they ignore the boss? As I walk through production areas, I pay extra attention to the speed and direction I am being led and ask to double back to areas that were rushed. In every room, I pay close attention to the condition of the floors to see if they are uncluttered, with floor markings and well maintained. I then shift my focus to the condition of electrical cords and machinery; is there pride in workmanship or is equipment held together by zip-ties and tape? I then move my focus to employees and their workstations; are stations cluttered or do employees look comfortable while conducting work? Are employees using proper Personal Protective Equipment, or are they using homemade protection? I wonder if they are genuinely happy, or if they look like they are just getting by. I consider this and more, as the strokes of a bigger picture to what type of risk this client will turn out to be; one that takes pride in their establishment, values its employees and cares about their safety, or one that cuts corners, views its employees as expendable and safety as a gimmick.

While maintaining my head on a swivel at work, I take note of what the client presents to me and obsess over what is not discussed. I look at the obvious, but ultimately rely on my gut’s answer to: would I genuinely like working for the superiors I just met, would I feel safe doing my job and would I take pride in working for this organization?  You will be able to draw similar conclusions from your observations.