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How a Military Mindset Can Save Lives in Construction

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(Photo credit: iStock.com/Leandro_Maldonado)

The elite military program, Top Gun, is known for training the best and most talented Navy pilots. This program was born after a 1968 study that concluded pilots needed better flight and fight training. Too many skilled pilots were being killed during war. 

Making the right decision in high pressure, dangerous situations goes beyond training; it has to be a mindset that’s easily accessible and quickly deployed. Those on the frontline — both in the military and the construction industry — often have one split second to make a decision that prevents serious injuries and fatalities. Knowing what is at stake, their training must teach repeatable decision-making processes, ingraining skills that make the difference between life or death. 

Que the OODA Loop

The late John Boyd, a U.S. Air Force Colonel and military strategist, attributed his success in the Korean War to a decision-making model he would later coin the OODA Loop. Standing for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act, the OODA Loop became a prominent decision-making framework during Top Gun training. 

Boyd would teach soldiers how to make critical decisions when there may not be time to gather all available information. Although developed more than 50 years ago, this military thinking is still widely used by Top Gun pilots in air-to-air combat today. Other industries, including construction, are slowly adopting the OODA Loop model in their respective fields. 

Current Job Site Training in Construction

A typical morning safety huddle usually consists of a project manager reading from a script. They give the business-as-usual spiel then let their job site get to work. While this safety huddle is important, it isn’t always the most effective or engaging way to help workers gather and retain crucial information. With construction being one of the most dangerous industries in America, it is critical to be well trained and engaged on the job site. One wrong move can lead to serious injury and even death. 

Safety huddles and toolbox talks can be made more engaging and effective by teaching the workforce how to apply and practice problem-solving methods, such as the OODA Loop framework. In the same way it helps soldiers survive, the OODA Loop framework can also make a significant impact on reducing serious injuries and fatalities on construction projects. It equips workers with the tools they need to make life-saving decisions in the moment when ample time is not available.

Observe, Orient, Decide and Act….Then Repeat

When on a job site, construction workers make many observations. They witness unfolding circumstances, encounter interactions with the environment and gather outside information related to potential problems. The first step in the OODA Loop is observing these forces.

After observing, workers must orient themselves to the situation, applying their past experiences, knowledge, beliefs and motivations to better understand and assess the potential risk. Then, they must quickly decide what the safest and smartest solve is and act on that conclusion. 

This mindset shift requires quick decision making, which is often achieved after repetitive practice and mindful brain exercises. Project managers should consider teaching this framework to their workers, offering practice scenarios to apply what they learned before taking it to the job site.  

A New Way of Thinking: Applying the OODA Loop to Job Site Training

Infusing this framework into toolbox talks and training can help promote safe behaviors and support a strong organizational safety culture. By teaching workers skills they can easily commit to memory and utilize on every job site, project managers can lower construction risks and fatalities. 

This framework takes into account how the brain works so it can be used as a weapon against job site hazards, continuously feeding the OODA Loop and preparing the workforce to identify and mitigate construction’s many dangers.

Incorporating the OODA Loop framework on construction sites provides the workforce with four practical steps to autonomously identify and remove job site hazards before they become dangerous. Using this framework, workers can quickly become the Top Guns in construction. 

Stokes McIntyre is the president of MindForge, a subsidiary of the International Risk Management Institute (IRMI). He also serves as vice chairman of IRMI and president of Hotbed LLC — a video production company.

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