Thursday, August 24, 2006

When Things Go Wrong

Many experts on surviving an airplane crash will tell you that one key to survival is already knowing your escape route. After obtaining your seat count the rows to the nearest exit. If something does go wrong the cabin will likely be full of smoke and your only method of escape may be crawling on the floor. If you know the rows to the exit in front of you and the exit behind you then it may be easier to find your way out. This one example illustrates the importance of planning your actions for when things go wrong.

Life happens. And in the course of life we all eventually face a crisis. In fact most people have faced many crises. Planning for those events and presetting your state of mind for any possibility of the unknown may mean the difference between life and death for you, your coworker, family member, or friend. Planning may seem simple and you may consider most of your safety training as developing your plan. But if you check around you will find that most people don’t have a real plan. Presetting your state of mind is a more complicated concept and doesn’t mean living in fear of the impending disaster. It actually means learning how to keep a level head when the road is extremely bumpy.

Let’s examine the plan first. Do you know the best methods of escape from your workstation? If not, take some time and plan at least two methods of escape. The second method is your backup when the first is blocked. Do you know all the ways to summon help to your workstation? Check your company’s safety policy for their methods to summon help. Look for the nearest telephone to your workstation. Do you know the safest and quickest way to disconnect energy sources from the equipment in your workstation or in workstations around you? Know where to turn off energy sources in case someone gets in trouble near your workstation. If you have already looked at the alternative solutions to your potential decisions then you will be able to remain calm and make the right choices.

Having the plan ready takes one burden off your mind when things do go wrong. Maintaining a clear state of mind allows you to evaluate the choices and find the best possible solution. In some cases the solution may involve helping a coworker in need. In other cases the solution may be finding and using the quickest escape route and then summoning help. If you panic you will more likely make the wrong decision. In many situations it will be extremely difficult not to panic, but panic clouds your mind and causes your “fight or flight” reflexes to kick in. Fight or flight is your body’s method of using the quickest method out of trouble without consideration for wisdom. The adrenaline rush usually doesn’t help. Sometimes avoiding that automatic jump can actually lead to both a wiser and quicker solution.

Back to the plan. If you already know how you are going to react then even if some panic sits in you will be able to almost automatically make decisions. Thus you should rehearse your actions for potential situations. Your company probably already helped you with this rehearsal by way of fire or storm drills. You may have already taken some sort of first aid class or learned CPR. And most companies even allow you to use a fire extinguisher to teach you how and when to fight a fire, knowing that sometimes escape is more important than fighting a fire.

Many companies have employees that work on varying sites that may include unknown properties belonging to a customer or another company. Find out where you are going if you are going to be at a remote site. Look for the nearest emergency response team such as a fire department or rescue squad. Know how to summon help. You may want to write yourself instructions to keep with you while you are at the site.

In most emergency situations you will experience some panic. If you have already considered the unlikely but possible events then you will have more mental power available to analyze the situation and pick a planned solution. Having that advantage will reduce the stress which, in turn, reduces the panic and eliminates the illogical decisions that can be made in a fight or flight scenario.