Biases and Perceptions in Safety

Biases and Perceptions in Safety


Thanks to John Wettstein from Safety Strategies for sending this in.

Have a read of the story and reflect (see reflection makes sense) on how this message may apply in the workplace, particularly in regards to risk and safety.

Why does this happen? Here are a few reasons:

In his book “Risk Makes Sense” (pp12, 13), Dr Rob Long says:

“Information or data is brought to our senses by stimulus and our brain actively selects, organises and interprets that information which may or may not lead to a judgement or actions associated with that information. The important thing to note is that the information is meaningless without the attention given to it by the receiver. Humans give meaning to stimulus because of their history, experience, training, heredity or associated sources of knowledge such as culture. Often people are selective in the attention they give to information because of various motivations……….. It is so important in the quest to make sense of risk that we understand more about the limits of human perception and the way belief in risk myths and micro rules limit perception.”

In his paper Understanding The Social Psychology of Risk And Safety, Rob Long explains the concept of “Cognitive Bias” A cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation in judgment. Individuals create their own ‘subjective social reality’ from their perception of their engagement with others in groups and organisations. There are more than 250 cognitive biases, effects and heuristics that affect the judgment and decision making of humans ( Most biases and effects are socially conditioned.

Here is a fun little cognitive bias exercise that you may enjoy:


If we want to truly understand and deal with risk, we need to recognise that it is subjective and that our thinking about risk is biased in so many ways.

You may have heard of some of the more common biases (see the full list here):

  • Confirmation bias
  • Availability bias
  • Hindsight bias
  • Sunk cost effect
  • Bandwagon effect
  • Dunning-Kruger effect
  • Not invented here
  • Risk compensation (Risk Homeostasis)

There are many other great articles on this blog that discuss the importance of recognising our biases. If you would like a very succinct introduction to the subjectivity of thinking about risk and the many biases we have then I recommend this video by Gab Carlton and Rob Sams: ‘Conversations on the Couch’ – Biases

More articles on biases:

I’m biased, but that’s ok!


I’m biased, but that’s ok! I am about to do something significant in my life and I want to manage risk and reduce it to as low as reasonably practical. This is an important decision that ill impact the rest of my life. I want to make sure I do everything I ……Read the rest of the article


Safety Surveys, Bias and Predictability


Safety Surveys, Bias and Predictability Rob’s new Book: “Following-Leading in Risk” is a MUST READ if you think you already know about Leadership. CHECK IT OUT This week Safe Work Australia released a report on Attitudes Towards Risk Taking and Rule Breaking in Australian Workplaces . The report summarizes …… Read the rest of the article

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