Why Safety Controls Don’t Always Work

Why Safety Controls Don’t Always Work The Way We Expect

Risk Homestasis

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

Wilde’s theory of Risk Homeostasis tells us that all people have their own target level of risk. They will adjust their behaviour based on their own perception of the risk versus all of the perceived costs and benefits of either taking risk or avoiding it. For example, Wilde found that when ABS brakes are fitted to vehicles then accident rates do not fall as expected. Rather people compensate, in order to achieve their target risk, by driving harder and braking later – and having the same number of accidents. The photos says it all – “I’ll walk around the barrier because it’s much less hassle for very little increase in risk”.

This is why sometimes it is more effective to increase the risk, or people’s perception of it, in order to improve safety. People compensate for the increase in uncertainty and perceived risk. Our safer behaviour in these areas is influenced and controlled by natural social interaction as opposed to abnormal regulations and engineered controls.

Of course our behaviour in situations shown in the photo is very much subject to social influence. How would our obedience and behaviour vary if we were part of a group, with our kids, on CCTV, delivering safety training or were aware of a previous serious incident here? How do those factors influence our perception of the risk and the difference between that and our normal target level of risk? The larger the difference, +ve or -ve, the greater our change in behavior, safer or riskier

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