January 24, 2022

The Editor speaks: Why do we ignore warnings?

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In one of our stories today under the heading “Woman dead after being hit by jet blast at Caribbean beach” it shows the complete disregard to a sign that stated very clearly “Jet blast of departing and arriving aircraft can cause severe physical harm resulting in extreme bodily harm and/or death.”

At St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana Airport a 57-year-old New Zealand woman was holding onto the fence that separates the beach from the airport runway just as a plane landed. The jet blast from the Boeing 737 threw her backwards, causing her to hit her head on the concrete pavement. She died.

Why did she ignore the clear warning signs?

We hear accounts all the time of people ignoring warnings both verbal and by reading them, and dying because of it. Fire risks. Flooding. Stay inside. Do not venture outside. Turn off all electrical devises. Do not light a match – petrol. [The latter sounds easy to obey but recently someone didn’t and it resulted in an explosion where not only did the perpetrator die but also three hundred persons that were with him!]

Do you look at all the warnings on medicine labels? if you do – do you even take notice of them?

Why do we ignore the warmings?

Gerald Wilde in 1983 proposed a theory called “Risk Homeostasis”.

It says that everybody has their own level of acceptable or ‘target risk’. If they subjectively perceive that risks are lower than their target risk then they will take additional risks in order to reap the benefits and rewards from doing so. If the subjective perceptions of risk are higher than their target risk then they will behave more safely in order to avoid any subsequent losses. Most of these judgements and risk perceptions take place unconsciously.

In his book, Target Risk 3, Wilde covers the ineffectiveness of warning signage in some detail.

A warning that is not perceived as needed will not be heeded – even when it is needed.

Wilde says that warning signage can only make people behave more cautiously if they agree that their behaviour would probably be more risky if they had not seen the warning sign. Similarly, a warning sign can increase danger when it overstates the danger – meaning we take less precautions if our experience and subjective perception is that the danger is usually less than stated on the sign. If there are other benefits of ignoring the sign (like getting to home, school or work quicker) and if we have seen others ignore them without consequence (cross the flooded road) – then guess what happens?

Dave Collins writing on the SafetyRisk website says:

We have all seen and been frustrated by road works signs that warn us to slow down but then we see no actual work taking place – what happens next time we see such a sign? A case of the “boy who cried wolf”?

Traffic lights, Giveway, and Stop signs on intersections have not been shown to increase the safety of these intersections to any great extent. Motorists have been “lulled into a false sense of safety” – thinking that everybody will obey the lights or sign and so they take no precautions or asses the potential threats and just proceed thru these intersections, oblivious to others.

Wilde agrees with my experience in the workplace and public areas that the main purpose of warning signage is to decrease the liability of those who erect them – “we told you so”. Many compensate for the difficulties in identifying hazards and predicting behaviours by “warning signage over-kill”. The only affect this has, when those hazards are minor or non existent, is to desensitize people, therefore negating any safety benefit.

Warning signage normally does not alter the frequency or size of the risk and has little or no lasting effect upon safety, regardless of whether the installation alters the external risk or threat. Wilde reports on a Finnish study of successful road warning signs which were only displayed when the risk was real and they were actually needed.

However, in the case of “road closed due to flood” signs, the risk was real and they only come out when needed – why don’t they work? Risk Homeostasis – people just want to get home, get fed, get dry, pick up family or even have a little bit of adventure – those are the benefits. Have most people ever been washed off a flooded road before? – no that only happens to idiots – how many times have you heard “I’ve got a 4WD (SUV)”, how many people did they see successfully do it in front of them, how often have we seen cars driving through flooded streets on TV? Obviously the perceived benefits outweigh the perceived risks. Would anybody who had a bad experience with flood waters last week or last year ever do it again? Not likely, but obviously it wasn’t the telling and warning signage that changed their perception – it was the experience – we make mistakes – we learn about risk.

SOURCE: https://safetyrisk.net/why-do-we-ignore-warning-signs-sometimes-with-tragic-results/

Next time you go out on the road in your vehicle and you approach any of our roundabouts you will see signs telling you to slow down that include even clear markings on the road. Check how many drivers do and if that also includes you.

Only last night I was behind a car and I slowed down as I approached the roundabout ahead. The car in front of me did not. A car on his left hand side who was supposed to have turned left or gone straight on didn’t. It illegally turned right (without signalling) and into the path of the car in front of me. The car in front of me slammed on his brakes and swerved further right and an accident was avoided. I was able to slow down even more but I only just managed not to avoid the car in front of me.

I did heed the warning signs and escaped. It was only by God’s grace the car in front of me did the same.

If you have lived here through Hurricane Ivan I can assure you you will heed the Hurricane Warnings unless you have a death wish. Risk Homeostasis does not come into the equation.

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