Identical single accidents’ consequences can lead to diverging societal impacts: where lies the difference?

Identical single accidents’ consequences can lead to diverging societal impacts: where lies the difference?

Oct 23rd, 2014

Identical single accidents’ consequences can lead to diverging societal impacts

Let’s discuss, as we mentioned in the prior post, different accident types, with identical or very similar single-accident direct consequences, but very different global impacts, which may generate surprisingly different public reactions. The discussion will include the classification of the “German” metaphors. Incidentally, we have found one non German document entitled “Blackett Review of High Impact Low Probability Risks ”, by the U.K. Government Office for Science, that refers to the German metaphors and have noticed that over time the metaphors have been slightly adapted to cover different interpretations. As we will see below, some adaptations and restrictions are necessary to apply the metaphors to the examples below.tractor accident

Examples: Professional drivers of tractor and specialty vehicles.

Accident a1) in a small family farm the tractor driver dies when the vehicle rolls over. This is unfortunately a very common accident in the farming industry. Nobody notices, no one cares, but the immediate family.

Accident a2) The driver of a highway cleaning vehicles dies in a similar accident. There is an inquiry, insurances intervene, may be the accident gets reported in the local news.

The overall total annual casualty count, country wide, is way higher for accidents type a1 than a2 although for a single accident consequences are identical (1 casualty), probability (rate of occurrence) most likely very different (a1>>a2).

Societally a1 has such a high rate that it is considered a “fact of life” among workers, whose perception becomes numb, while the public is not informed and goes by totally unaware; however a1 could mobilize public opinion if facts were known, because people would feel “surprised” and almost “betrayed”. At that stage it could be interpreted as a Medusa “freeze”, a public stupor before outcry, and mitigative actions would be decided on the spot. As risk perception depends on the viewers’ position, for the farmer himself, this risk is a Sword of Damocles as we often perceive like we are different from others, accidents only occur to others, so personal likelihood is perceived as very low.

Societally a2 is a Cyclops: it is easy to imagine that the driver will die, but the probability of the accident is highly uncertain because of extant, apparently sufficient, safety rules. Death is an “expected” consequence, but people think its occurrence is most uncertain. If an accident occurs, there is an immediate awareness, in some cases panic, due to the fact that at least that occurrence is now certain to have happened, the case gets lots of attention and mitigation is decided, but there is likely no Medusa “freeze”. For the driver himself, this risk is a Sword of Damocles, like for the farmer.


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Category: Consequences, Crisis management, Hazard, Probabilities, Risk analysis, Risk management, Tolerance/Acceptability

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