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Safety Insights: Danger Vs. Hazard

According to a resent article in Discovery Magazine, researchers have found that our brains misjudge risk.  However, if we can learn to close the gap between fear and fact it may be possible to truly reduce the risk of injury or death.  According to researcher, David Ropeik, “Risk perception is not emotion and reason, or facts and feelings.  It’s both, inescapably, down at the very wiring of our brain.”  This is the reason for the design and delivery method of my Hazard Recognition and Control Workshop.  So many times participants will tell me  about the “risks associated with just living.”  While I agree there are inherent risks in life, it is important in an industrial setting, home, recreational activity, etc. to deal with the hazards we can recognize and not emotionally make our lives more dangerous by making up unknown hazards.

Take a look at some of the lifetime risks that the article named and the likelihood of death with to Total Cause being 1 in 1:

  • Heart Disease: 1 in 6
  • Cancer: 1 in 7
  • Stroke: 1 in 29
  • Motor Vehicle Accident: 1 in 98
  • Suicide: 1 in 109
  • Accidental Poisoning: 1 in 126
  • Fall: 1 in 163
  • Gun Assault: 1 in 321
  • Car Occupant Accident: 1 in 368
  • Pedestrian Accident: 1 in 701
  • Motorcycle Accident: 1 in 761
  • Accidental Drowning: 1,103
  • Cycling Accident: 1 in 4,381
  • Gun Discharge: 1 in 6,609
  • Air/Space Accident: 1 in 7,178
  • Electrocution: 1 in 12,420
  • Heat Exposure: 1 in 13,217
  • Cataclysmic Storm: 1 in 29,196
  • Bee, Hornet, or Wasp Sting: 1 in 79,842
  • Earthquake: 1 in 97,807
  • Legal Execution: 1 in 111,779
  • Lightning: 1 in 134,906
  • Dog Attack: 1 in 144,899
  • Flood: 1 in 558,896
  • Fireworks: 1 in 652,046

The media has a way of hyping up our emotion so that our fears increase.  In fact, when the earthquake hit Japan and the nuclear power facilities began to meltdown, people on the West Coast of the United States started a run on potassium iodine pills from fear of thyroid damage from the radiation release.  All this did was increase the price to as much as $200.00 a pill.  The distance from the hazard was 5,000 miles and the treatment was recommended for people within 10 miles of the hazardous release.

With regard to the previous list naming causes of death and ones chances, let’s assume we can mitigate the risk by identifying the hazards that lead us to them and apply some controls:

  • Heart Disease: 1 in 6 - get a check-up, take an asprin each day, don’t smoke, exercise more, etc.
  • Cancer: 1 in 7 – get a check-up, don’t smoke, use personal protective clothing when handling chemicals, etc.
  • Stroke: 1 in 29 – get a check-up, don’t smoke, exercise, monitor your blood pressure, rest, etc.
  • Motor Vehicle Accident: 1 in 98 – follow the rules of the road, take a defensive driver course (and use it!), wear seat-belts, etc.
  • Suicide: 1 in 109 – get a check-up, if depressed, get help, stay busy with life long goals, etc.
  • Accidental Poisoning: 1 in 126 – keep poisons stored properly, handle poisons according to label information, etc.
  • Fall: 1 in 163 – stay close to the ground, use fall prevention, etc.
  • Gun Assault: 1 in 321 – avoid high-risk areas, avoid confronting strangers in high-stress situations, etc.
  • Car Occupant Accident: 1 in 368 – don’t ride with people who break the rules of the road, wear your seat-belt, be alert when riding with others and call-out hazards, etc.
  • Pedestrian Accident: 1 in 701 – (your Momma told you about this one) look both ways before crossing the street, stay in the designated cross-walk, obey pedestrian crossing signals, etc.
  • Motorcycle Accident: 1 in 761 – don’t ride a motorcycle, take a motorcycle safety course (and use what you learn, wear a helmet, follow the rules of the road, etc.
  • Accidental Drowning: 1,103 – learn to swim, wear a life preserver, etc.
  • Cycling Accident: 1 in 4,381 – wear a helmet, ride in low traffic areas and on cycle friendly roads, etc.
  • Gun Discharge: 1 in 6,609 – don’t handle guns, stay away from areas where guns are discharged, take a gun safer course (use what you learn), etc.
  • Air/Space Accident: 1 in 7,178 – don’t fly, if you are pilot, follow flight rules, etc.
  • Electrocution: 1 in 12,420 – do not touch wires unless you are trained, wear proper personal protective equipment, get training to work with electricity, etc.
  • Heat Exposure: 1 in 13,217 – monitor temperatures and stay cool and hydrated, etc.
  • Cataclysmic Storm: 1 in 29,196 – avoid geography with cataclysmic storms, pay attention to weather reports, take cover or leave hazardous area, etc.
  • Bee, Hornet, or Wasp Sting: 1 in 79,842 – avoid places where these flying insect build nests, get checked for allergic reaction to stings, etc.
  • Earthquake: 1 in 97,807 – avoid earthquake prone geography, use the safety triangle when taking cover during an earthquake, etc.
  • Legal Execution: 1 in 111,779 – stay out of trouble, etc.
  • Lightning: 1 in 134,906 – avoid areas where lightning strikes occur, take cover when storms approach, etc.
  • Dog Attack: 1 in 144,899 – avoid unfamiliar dogs, etc.
  • Flood: 1 in 558,896 – avoid low lying geographical areas, pay attention to warning signs and weather reports about flooding, etc.
  • Fireworks: 1 in 652,046 – avoid them and let professionals handle them, etc.
I know that it seems silly to put etc. at the end of each hazard, but as you can imagine books can be written on each of these causes of death.  The point is that when you recognize a hazard that can cause injury or death, take action to mitigate the risk.  The difficulty however is that most people have trouble recognizing what can harm them.  Moreover, people fail to take the precautions necessary to protect themselves because they don’t really think they will get hurt.
While writing this blog post I am riding along in an aluminum tube at 33,000 ft. at 438 mph and feel no fear of death (I fly small airplanes which have a much worse safety record) heading to Baltimore to conduct my Hazard Recognition and Control Workshop for a client.  When I get to Baltimore my odds of dying will increase because I will rent a car to drive for the next three days.  I also live in Oklahoma where we have tornados according to popular facts, but the likelihood of being killed by a tornado is 1 in 29,196.  My point?
We need to train ourselves and others at improving our ability to recognize hazards and practice taking control to “find and fix” them so that one increase the odds of being uninjured or dying to 1 in 1.
If you are interested in learning more about my workshop email for information.
Be Safe!
Carl Potter, CSP


2 Responses to Safety Insights: Danger Vs. Hazard

  • Cary Usrey says:


    Nice article. I would also like to add that “FINd and Fix” should also include steps taken when the same hazard occurs again and again. Take your Heart Disease example: This isn’t just a quick fix. It takes support, feedback, a change in lifestyle, and multiple visits to a doctor. Safety Hazards are the same way. A quick ‘find and fix’ is great in the short term but may not uncover the reasons the hazard was there. It may take some long term focus to uncover, address, and make right.

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