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Practitioner viewpoint - September 22

14 September 2022

We make decisions everyday, but the decisions of a safety practitioner can be far more far reaching. Louise Ward provides an insight.

VERY FEW people enjoy making decisions, but it’s part of life, whether we’re choosing what to have for dinner, where to book for the office Christmas party, what to do with the family at the weekend, or even when to cross the road or pull out of a junction. We make dozens of decisions everyday, and most of them probably go largely unnoticed.

However, as safety practitioners the decisions we make sometimes feel much more far reaching, and have the potential to result in harm if we make the wrong call.

Have you ever considered the process that you go through to make a decision? How you build up a picture of the options, gather information to assess the potential risks and benefits of each one, and weigh up the evidence to decide on the best way forward. It’s a complex process based on our personal experience, the facts in the moment, and the wider evidence available to us at the time, but this process can be coached and shaped through the use of models, tools and training to help improve the effectiveness of our decisions.

I been reading an amazing book on this very subject

Heat of the moment” by Sabrina Cohen Hatton, published by Penguin ISBN 978-1-7841-6388-4

The Author is a senior fire service officer. She’s an inspirational person. Having had a tough childhood and worked tirelessly to attain her goal of becoming a firefighter, but she didn’t stop there. She became fascinated by the way that human beings make decisions in pressurised situations, and went on to get a degree in psychology through the open university, and then to complete a doctorate in neuroscience. Her research has focused on understanding the process of decision making, in order to design training and tools to support emergency service officers to make more effective decisions in crisis situations. These methodologies are now in use all over the world. Her work has, quite simply, saved countless lives.

It might sound like a tough read, but it’s hugely accessible, interesting and applicable to every part of our lives. Throughout the book the author explains some basic concepts and builds on these with everyday examples, as well as the more extreme situations linked to her occupation.

Reading it has encouraged me to reflect on my own thought process, and to feel more confident in the way that I draw on my knowledge and experience, together with wider observations and evidence, to come to a decision. I’ve picked up tips to enhance my thinking, and to alert me to potential complications. It’s also made me realise that decision making is a skill that needs to be developed and honed as we progress through our careers. As safety professionals we often find others looking to us to make decisions in difficult situations, and yet our training doesn’t draw on any of the important material discussed in this book, or the tools, training or support material now commonly used by leaders in the emergency services.

Why not? Surely the time has come to accept that to be successful and effective we need knowledge and skills beyond basic legislation and compliance? Non-technical skills are right at the heart of everything we do, we need to build these into the standard qualifications, but beyond that we have a duty as professionals to keep developing these important skills throughout our career.

So please accept my recommendation and read the book. I hope you’ll find it a fascinating insight into the human mind, but also a really helpful guide to making better, safer decisions in a more conscious and confident manner.

If nothing else it’s great CPD.

Louise Ward is safety & sustainability director at G&W UK – Safety. For more information, visit www.gwrr.co.uk