Fight, Flight or Freeze
In coordination with Dig Safe month, safety on the job site is key. Preventative actions are crucial to operator and job site safety. By knowing the way in which the human body reacts to an emergency, we are able to input measures that protect and prevent situations from happening.
With the arrival of spring and temperatures slowly rising, there is a general tone of excitement in the air. Spring also brings changing working conditions which can present job site hazards such as inclement weather, unstable terrain, and lack of focus.
In coordination with Dig Safe month, safety on the job site is key. Preventative actions are crucial to operator and job site safety. By knowing the way in which the human body reacts to an emergency, we are able to input measures that protect and prevent situations from happening. These measures also assist in creating the safest work environment and allow for the quickest diffusing of a situation. This includes the proper training of all equipment and safety measures being used in a situation.
In an Emergency:
When exposed to an emergency situation the human body triggers the Acute Stress Response and reacts accordingly.
Your Body’s Reaction to an Emergency
- The sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates the fight/flight/freeze response takes control of the body. This releases adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol into the body.
- Adrenaline and norepinephrine prepare the body, and give you a high-octane energy boost.
- Your heart rate increases and your lungs expand to take in more oxygen.
- Blood is channeled to major skeletal muscles for quick action and strength.
- The engaged sympathetic nervous system depletes your body’s energy reserves of glycogen and fat stores. Which could cause a possible energy crash, leaving you cold and tired. This causes the limbic system to take over – making your thought process less logical and more emotional, possibly leading to impulsive and irrational behaviour.
- When panic subsides rational thought returns.
The immediate reaction to an emergency can be broken down into three categories:
- Fight: 10 – 15% of people will remain relatively calm and rational. These people will be able to collect their thoughts quickly, their awareness of the situation will be intact and their judgment and reasoning abilities will not be impaired to any significant extent. They will be able to assess the situation, make a plan and act on it.
- Flight: 75% of people will be stunned and bewildered. They will find their reasoning is simply impaired and their thinking is difficult. They will behave in a reflexive, almost automatic or mechanical manner. Their field of attention becomes very restricted and they may suffer tunnel vision.
- Freeze: The third band is made up of between 10 – 15% of the population. These people will tend to show a high degree of inappropriate behaviour that is not only ineffective in coping with a life-threatening situation, but may also be counter-productive and even add to their danger.
When the body goes into Fight, Flight or Freeze mode, it is important to stay as calm as possible in order to assess the situation at hand. As the immediate reaction to the situation is the most important, and often times is due to the cortisol infusion into the brain which slows the thinking process, staying calm will allow the brain to make the most logical choice.
Consider these tips to promote a safe work environment in the transition from winter to spring.
Doing a job well is doing it in a safe manner.
- Stay calm. The decisions you make before your limbic system kicks in will be the most logical ones.
- Monitor the job site and equipment you are working on prior to starting work, during work, and after work. This includes a circle check and analyzing potential site and material hazards.
- When excavating around utilities, call for locates before you begin a project and make sure you or your employees are properly trained to do the job being asked.
- Have the proper PPE and make sure it is in good condition prior to starting a job.
To schedule a training session please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fitzpatrick, Brad. Your Brain on Survival: The Physiological Response to a Life-Threatening Situation.” https://www.outdoorlife.com/articles/survival/2016/04/your-brain-survival-physiological-response-life-threatening-situation. April 12, 2016.
Leach, John. Survival Psychology, as quoted in Sherwood, Ben, The Survivor’s Club, Grand Central Publishing, 2009. 47-48.