Do Scare Tactics Work?
We are sometimes tempted to try to shock and scare people into working more safely. The search term “gory accident photos” is one of the most popular search terms used to find this website (see them HERE if you must) . The question is: does it work? In this week’s post to the Rockford Greene International blog Phil LaDuke explores this question. Please take a moment to read it and send him or post your thoughts. READ MORE HERE….
Forgetting Andy: Why Scare Tactics Don’t Work
By Phil La Duke
If you’ve been in or around the safety industry for more than fifteen minutes or so you likely know “Andy”. Andy is a safety pseudo celebrity who makes his living telling the story of how he was horrifically injured in an industrial accident, because by his account he failed to follow the rules. Rules, he’s quick to recount, that were put in place for his protection. Andy now makes his living speaking to safety audiences who nod knowingly in silent reproachful agreement.
There are many, “Andys” out there. They are well-intentioned, good people who desperately want to share their stories. They want nothing more than to glean some tiny kernel of good to come out of their tragedies. My issue isn’t with the Andys of the world; do they make money off their situation? Sure, but so what? Several of these Andys are good friends of mine and the ones that I know personally make their living off videos, speeches, or other events related to their injuries, but none of them prefer their life now to the one they had before the fateful day that changed everything. One of the Andys has devoted her life to a non-profit foundation that helps victims who have lost their spouses industrial accidents.
Noble work to be sure. But does the message work? After one particularly poignant speech by an Andy, one of the participants was unmoved. He said, “this guy makes his living off his own screw up. What am I supposed to learn from him?” In that moment I realized that the stories about the Andys—those that survived with horrific injuries, those that left weeping widows and fatherless children, and those who watched their buddies fall from heights, or burn to death, or suffer some other fate that shouldn’t have happened and that left their families, friends, and coworkers forever changed—don’t mean that much to the rest of us.
Bullshit: You Don’t Scare Me
There is a defense mechanism that kicks in whenever we are confronted with the horrific: we disbelieve. The makers of horror films understand this and add comic relief to the films so that the viewer can enjoy the vicarious thrill of the horror. If the producers didn’t add the comic relief, studies have shown the viewers disbelieve the story and start to laugh inappropriately. It becomes too horrible to imagine and ceases to be fun. All the Andys in the world won’t convince the average worker that it CAN happen to him or her let alone that it WILL happen to them. The thought of dying in the work place doesn’t occur to most of us. Intellectually we may grant that at least hypothetically we could get injured, and maybe even die at work, but we console ourselves by telling ourselves that we are too smart, too lucky, or too skilled for it to happen to us.
You’re NOT My Mom!
So trying to scare us won’t work, and the attempt comes off a bit ham-handed and mawkish. The more the safety professional tries to use scare tactics the more they sound like the parents of misbehaving four-year olds. For some, this quasi parenting sparks a deep-seated need to rebel. While few will actually scream it, many mentally are saying “You’re not the boss of me” and will increase risky behavior in the misguided attempt to show the safety professionals how little control they actually have over how the workers behave.