For many safety professionals, safety risk is defined as the level of injury or fatality resulting from a hazardous occurrence. Yet if you asked the public to define safety risk, they may see things quite differently. The safety professionals definition fails to take into account all the factors that invoke an emotional response such as fear, fright or anger which collectively make up factors contributing to a more significant reputational risk through ‘public outrage.’ In a reputational sense some practitioners argue that the following definition exists: Risk = Hazard + Outrage

The irony is that most safety professionals pay little attention to the outrage when considering risk, and the public often pays less attention to the actual hazard. Bird flu was such an example where the fear created amongst the community, far outweighed the reality of hazard.

Experts in risk perception have identified the following variables as some of the contributing factors to this outrage phenomena:

  • Control - The level of control one has over the hazard – e.g. driving the car feels far safer rather than being a passenger
  • Fairness - Where there is a perceived level of unfairness in the treatment of one group over another
  • Morality – Where there are some risks which are not only unacceptable but perceived as evil – e.g. child molestation
  • Trust – Where we feel more empowered and believe as true information about a hazard when it comes from a reputable source

Concerns for these factors are important when making decisions regarding safety hazards and the choices available between alternatives in the management of risk.

Considerations such as these should be at the forefront of all managers and Executives in high profile public and private organisations, major event organisers and large venue operators in the way they communicate risk with their external stakeholder. Failure to do so can be exceptionally damaging to the brand and the bottom line.