Desensitisation–the by-product of ill-conceived safety initiatives

by Dave Collins on April 21, 2016

in Creativity,Psychology of Safety and Risk,Road Safety,Simplistic Safety



Desensitization – the by-product of ill-conceived safety initiatives

imageAs Gerald Wilde puts it in “Target Risk 3”: “Also, they may simply have been blinded by their zeal to do something quick and easy for safety – and thus doing nothing for it.”

Just like many years ago we learned to ignore the sound of car alarms, more recently we have become desensitised to the sound of reversing beepers, flashing amber lights, hi-viz clothing and the yellow painted trip hazards in public places. Similarly, we tune out to pre-flight safety demonstrations, warning signs & labels and definitely site safety inductions – particularly when it is clear that they are aimed at ticking the boxes rather than our wellbeing.

The Australian Road Safety Foundation (ARSF) has launched a new safety initiative which urges residents to make suburban streets safer by affixing ‘Life Saving’ stickers to their wheelie bins (read more here and see the new video below). They say: “The large stickers, which feature photos of children stepping towards the road and speed limit signs, are designed to provide a strong visual road safety reminder to motorists.”

The intent is good with Russell White, the chief executive of the Australian Road Safety Foundation (ARSF), saying: "When we look at road safety generally, we look at figures and numbers. But what we often overlook is the human face behind that”. There have obviously already been some questions thrown at them like whether these stickers will be a distraction?, to which they have responded: “there was little concern that the stickers would be distracting to drivers. Our view was that it’s a weekly thing [when people put their bins out] so they won’t be out all the time"

But what about the other by-products like drivers becoming desensitised to the multiple visions of children on the side of the road? Considering all of the information that a driver’s brain has to process and react to, could more children be run over as drivers become more desensitized to the presence of children around streets and unconsciously ignore the presence of a real child as just another stupid rubbish bin?

Not everybody will take this initiative seriously – where else might these stickers end up or what else might they have done to them?

In this article: Calculators, Matrices and Mumbo Jumbo Risk Assessment, Dr Rob Long explains how we can reduce overconfidence (hubris) and naivety in the risk management process.

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