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Judgment and decision-making in hazardous work environments: a critical skill.

NOIRS 2003-Abstracts of the National Occupational Injury Research Symposium 2003, October 28-30, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh, PA: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 2003 Oct; :38
Constantly unpredictable, hazardous environments demand heightened judgment and decision-making skills. Decisions made in volatile work settings have a direct impact on job performance, productivity, and the health and safety of the worker. Research has shown that dynamic environments, particularly emergency situations such as natural or manmade disasters, are stressful events for the worker, yet decisions must be made rapidly, often without adequate information. Accepting the premise that hazardous work environments may be viewed on a continuum, the idea that there are constants along that continuum follows. For example, in a mining or construction environment there would be patterns of behavior and constants similar to those found in a natural disaster environment, a terrorism incident, or even in a war environment. These environments on the continuum would be different in some dimensions, such as intensity, exposure, and other, as yet undefined areas. Yet, the environments would be similar in that they may share individual and organizational preparedness and response patterns. This author suggests that judgment and decision-making under the stress of a hazardous environment is one of the common tenets. This presentation discusses some of the current thinking on decision-making under stress, with knowledge gleaned from various disciplines, including the sociological, psychological, physiological, medical, and risk assessment literature. The relationship of stress to judgment and decision-making is an aspect of human behavior that is underexplored. In addition, training requirements for workers in emergent, hazardous, or stressful environments are inadequately understood. The NIOSH Pittsburgh Research Laboratory has conducted research on the performance of miners exposed to smoke in underground mines and on human behavior in underground mine fires. Miners with previous training reported less stress and anxiety and performed better in escape from smoke in a mine simulation training exercise than those with no previous training. Understanding judgment and decision-making under stress may contribute to better decisions for workers in exceptionally hazardous environments.
Training; Decision-making; Emergency-response; Emergency-responders; Mining-industry; Stress; Behavior-patterns; Behavior; Sociological-factors; Psychological-factors; Physiological-factors
NIOSH Pittsburgh Research Laboratory, P.O. Box 18070, Pittsburgh, PA 15236
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NOIRS 2003-Abstracts of the National Occupational Injury Research Symposium 2003, October 28-30, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania