Why do we perceive the degree of danger differently?

Occupational health and safety

When visiting factories and warehouses, we often wonder why two different individuals perceive the degree of danger differently. Why does it happen with many companies that the EHS manager always draws attention to compliance with occupational health and safety regulations, but often the only answer is: “Come on, why?! I’ve been doing this for a hundred years, I know how to do it right!”

It causes a lot of frustration for both parties when the other party judges the same situation completely differently. The one, that considers the events dangerous, is eager to intervene and stop the other one. And the one that performs the activity is extremely distraught by someone wanting to interfere in their work and being permanently worried.

Researches show that our risk perception is influenced by four groups of factors: 1. emotional (feelings, emotions, moods, etc.), 2. cognitive (severity of events, press coverage, risk reduction measures, etc.), 3. contextual (framing of information of risks, availability of alternative information sources, etc.), 4. individual (personality traits, previous experiences, age, etc.).

Based on the above, the following can be assumed: an occupational health and safety manager have learnt for several years what the most common sources of danger in the world of work are. They know several people who have personal experience of situations gone wrong and the consequences of these. They have seen videos, cases where trouble or accidents happened. They have this information on their cognitive map, and get emotionally involved in a seemingly dangerous situation. While a colleague who disregard dangers, has probably learnt less about the laws of physics, chemistry, mechanics and dynamics. They do not accept the law of large numbers and rely on small samples from their own life. They are not afraid, they are even confident, since nothing has happened before, so why would it happen now?!

Differences are comprehensible. But then again, what can be done? Is there an issue to be handled?

As John Adams said, “facts are stubborn things”, it does not make sense to doubt them. Accident statistics show why the law of large numbers works and why are there still too many accidents to this day. In our opinion, the solution is simple: time and energy must be spent on bringing the risk perception of the people working at the company, closer to each other! Stories must be shared with each other; in a playful way, but the law of large numbers must be proven; the top leaders must set an example and information should be passed on through a social experience. Technological achievements as well as various accident prevention systems help us in this process, but the lion’s share of the work awaits us!

Let’s do this! Let’s work together for an accident-free future!

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