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Discounting Danger

Posted by Beth Lay, Director of Safety and Human Performance on Jul 29, 2021 4:12:00 PM

Have you ever sped through a yellow light? Run a red? Why do we engage in these risky behaviors when we know crashes at intersections are among the deadliest? The answer according to safety science is because our mental model tells us we’ll be okay. 

Run a red light by discounting danger

Our brains “pattern match” by reminding us that we’ve done this before, and it has worked. The problem arises when we assume that we’re going to be okay and stop paying attention to the small yet important details – including why this particular situation may be different than prior situations such as intersection being near a blind curve or at a high-speed crossroad.

The more we practice an activity, the better we get at it. As adults, we no longer need training wheels on our bicycles. We don’t need a refresher course every time we ride a bike. Neurobiology reinforces this concept: we build stronger neural connections until activities become automatic. This is a good thing and necessary to function as human beings.

Human Performance practices often interrupt automatic behaviors. We train ourselves to actively engage our minds because risk hides in the differences. Yet, we are naturally averse to this type of thinking as it slows us down and takes energy.

It’s easy to explain weak signals away. Our hydraulic tools are too hot to touch because it’s summer. We’re using them more. My anti-lock brake light is on but it’s okay. I just got this vehicle from the shop. My boom controls feel a little weird but “it’s probably just . . .”   

Next time you notice something slightly off, we encourage you to press pause and purposefully dig deeper. Reach out for expertise and don’t discount the weak signals. They may be clues toward saving a life.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2021 edition of the Utility Arborist Association Newsline. 

Topics: at-risk behaviors, human performance, mental models

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