It is definite that most empirical studies on risk perception usually scrutinize the various perspectives which individuals express when they have been requested to offer their own judgments regarding technologies as well as natural and man-made activities that may be hazardous at their disposal. As a matter of fact, what the public may offer as feedback to such an inquiry is purely based on perception since no real evidence can be presented. Hence, risk perception plays important roles in risk management. It is against this backdrop that this essay assesses the role of risk perception in the broad context of risk management and regulation.
According to Morantz, the risk is an activity that exposes human life to suffering or loss.1This suffering may be in terms of financial decapitation, underperformance, physical harm to the body, loss or destruction of property and death. These risks have equal chances of occurring and failure to occur depends on the efforts of the victims and perpetrators.
This refers to the ability of an employer, employee, specialist or company to foretell the probability of risk occurrence and consequently offer advice to relevant people.2 This process involves an analysis of the past, present and future conditions regarding workplaces and the relation to employers, employees, investments and the public. However, the focus will be on the risks relating to the workplace and thus involving employees, employers and property. It is worth noting that risk perception is a wide concept that involves analyzing the probabilities of risk occurrence, proposing suitable measures that will solve the risks and taking stock of the aftermath of the risk. Therefore, this exercise determines the suitability and durability of any project with regards to employees’ working conditions and future expectations.
Risk Management and Regulation
This exercise aims at averting the damages that may occur because of risks at work. It can be successfully carried out at a workstation through two broad ways. In addition, risk management involves the essential steps that guide risk evasion and thus ensuring no risks occur at the workplace. Secondly, in case a risk occurs, this step outlines ways through which employers, employees and other relevant personnel handle them and their resultant effects. It is necessary to note that it is impossible to evade risks with complete assurance due to the levels and magnitudes of risks. While some risks are minor and go unnoticed, most of them carry massive consequences calling for necessary steps to avert them or regulate their effects. However, most risks occur without being noticed due to their minor impacts on employees or property.
Approaches to risk perception
There are three main approaches to risk perception. These are:
- First-order concepts/approaches
- Expanded/developed approaches
It is imperative to consider the technical part of it under the first-order approach.3 It is understood that perception of risk can be comprehended as a probability of a given magnitude. This approach also presumes the principle of utility or rationality. Moreover, the assessment of risk is conducted in an objective manner using this approach. In order to understand the magnitude of risk better, the approach usually simplifies the actual risk into manageable audits and checklists. Finally, it is the most appropriate approach that can be utilized to identify hazards easily. The economic rationalist, social amplification and cultural theory are also vital parameters that are considered under the first concept/approach.4
The expanded approaches
The social construction approach falls under the expanded approaches. It argues that the creation, re-creation and construction of risks usually take place. Moreover, the context is perceived to be organizational, non-linear as well as complex. Unlike the previous case, risks may never be subjected to complete analysis whether objectively or rationally. The approach is also founded on assumptions and perceptions. Some of the implications of this approach are that risk management entails recognizing of political manoeuvring of reality, the difficulty of the decision making process as well as the non-rationality and non-linearity of risk.
The Meta approaches risk perception
The third approach towards risk perception is usually a mixture of the other two approaches. It is aimed at obtaining the best result when evaluating the risk level based on perception. The evolutionary paradigm is the best example of a Meta approach. According to this approach, cognitive development and the pre-history of human beings are important aspects that can be used to explain risky behaviours. It is also advantageous if an individual is better at the art of risk perception since the latter is universal. Moreover, the pre-historic era and risk perception could be best correlated using human behaviour and attitude.
Roles of risk perception
Risk perception plays the following important roles:
- Various methods that are used to elicit opinions on risk are significantly improved through risk perception.
- Risk perception lays a firm foundation through which the diverse opinions offered by the public can be understood, evaluated and clearly articulated.
- In addition, risk perception assists in improving the manner in which risky information is communicated to those who make and implement policies, technical experts as well as laypeople.
Improving methods of delivering opinions
The most imperative step of managing and regulating risks is by understanding what they are and their impacts on human life and infrastructure.5 For instance, most mineworkers do not understand the nature of risks being faced by their profession. In most cases, miners equip themselves with all relevant mining gears and go thousands of miles underground with a sole aim of doing their daily duty and earning income at the end of the day. However, such people fail to understand that their work is not indispensable in relation to risks. All professions have their risk levels and nature, and employers and employees need to understand them before embarking on any undertaking. Once workers identify risks that relate to their work, they have higher chances of averting them or reducing their impacts. Information, education and knowledge play vital roles in shaping workers’ preparedness to handle disasters once they occur.6 For example, in a mining company, it is necessary to inform and educate miners about the meaning of risks. Moreover, employees need to understand the risks that face them depending on the nature of their jobs and other factors. It is not enough to inform them about the meanings and forms of risks that employees face.
Understanding diverse opinions
According to Reason, every department has its own risks depending on the nature of their work and environment.7 A watchtower operator has risks that differ from an underground miner even though they are in the same company. While the former faces risks of falling from a watchtower or an air crash, the latter faces risks of suffocation, falling objects and drowning. Therefore, employers need to understand the risks which their employees face depending on the nature of their work and their surroundings. This stage involves conducting research on a company or site to identify risks which employers, employees, clients and the public are likely to face while at the site. Common risks that face most organizations include firebreak outs and buildings collapsing.
In addition, those who adjudicate against claims made by refugees often perceive and argue that individuals who are at great dangers will usually take urgent and decisive action to secure themselves from hazardous spots and as such, they can hardly risk their lives. In other words, these adjudicators do not have any solid evidence to support their claims but they do so based on general knowledge. For instance, people will quickly vacate their homelands whenever they sense danger, they will also request to be protected once they arrive in a new and secure environment. In addition, it will be assumed that such affected people will never go back to the devastated land.
The common denominator in most organizations is the fact that risks are bound to occur regardless of their nature. Preparedness gives workers an upper hand in terms of handling risks to avoid or reduce the number of causalities and destruction of property. Howard insists that these policies have three factors that aim at regulating and controlling risks in an organization. First, they outline the necessary measures that employees must take to avoid the occurrence of risks. These measures are commonly known as precautions that enable individuals to refrain from activities that may expose their lives to danger or damage to property.8 These activities include sealing of all leaking pipes and informing the authorities regarding any suspicious happening. It also involves taking safety measures like wearing protective clothing while working in dangerous environments. Therefore, this step involves a lot of communication between an individual and the rest of the company staff. It helps the company and its staff to take precautionary measures before, during and after the occurrence of risks.9 After companies have analysed the risks they are exposed to, it is vital to consider implementing suggestions that will promote risk management. Most organisations have clear guidelines proposals and suggestions to handle emergencies. However, they ignore these suggestions and only turn to them when disaster strikes.
Communicating risk information to interested parties
One of the thorny issues that surround risk management is compensations and benefits that workers are entitled to whenever risks occur.10 Most organisations assume that since their employees benefit from medical insurance covers, they do not have a right to compensate them in case of risks occur. In addition, apart from the medical covers which companies contribute to their employees; they must also safeguard their safety against risks. Employers must accord their employees all benefits that result from loss of work due in death or physical disabilities that may render workers jobless.
The Swine flu epidemic also led to the application of risk perception in a great way. There were myriads of reactions that emanated from all corners of the world due to the outbreak of influenza. Needless to say, there were incessant calls from various governments on the need to curb the quick spread of the flue. For instance, President Barrack Obama agitated for rapid and effective preventive measures against the flue since it was causing real economic damage, especially on the tourism industry. While the flue could have been controlled normally under the ordinary healthcare preventive measures, the British, as well as the American public, had a strong perception that they deserved to be protected by their politicians even in the event of terrorism. As a matter of fact, the perception that politicians could come in handy to protect the public against the flue was uncalled for. In terms of the flood insurance program, it has been noted that the American public has been taking the initiative to insure themselves against risks posed by earthquakes and floods.11 Although they are usually determined to cushion themselves against such eventualities, quite a significant portion of the population hold a perception that the government must come to their aid whenever they incur losses occasioned by such disasters. However, a federal insurance program has been hailed by policymakers as the best option both for property owners and the government. It is perceived that the taxpayer will be relieved of the burden of extra insurance costs.12
Risk management is an exercise that covers both domestic and industrial activities. However, workers face serious risks due to the nature of their professions and their environments. Employers and employees should ensure that their safety and that of their property are given first priority. Identifying risks relating to various professions help avert them and reduce their impacts.
Coleman, ST, A Practical Guide to Risk Management, Research Foundation of CFA Institute, Virginia, 2011.
Frame, DJ, Managing Risk in Organizations: A Guide for Managers, Jossey-Bass, New Jersey, 2003.
Howard, H, The Failure of Risk Management: Why It’s Broken and How to Fix It, Wiley, New York, 2009.
Morantz, A, Coal Mine Safety: Do Unions Make a Difference? Stanford University Press, California, 2011.
Reason, J, The Human Contribution: Unsafe Acts, Accidents and Heroic Recoveries, Ashgate, Manchester, 2008.
Turner, AB, FN Pidgeon. Man Made Disasters, Wickham, London, 1997.
1 A Morantz, Coal Mine Safety: Do Unions Make a Difference? Stanford University Press, California, 2011, p.75.
2 DJ Frame, Managing Risk in Organizations: A Guide for Managers, Jossey-Bass, New Jersey, 2003, p.52.
3 A Morantz, p.88.
4 DJ Frame, p.65.
5 AB Turner, FN Pidgeon, Man-Made Disasters, Wickham, London, 1997, p.71.
6 AB Turner, FN Pidgeon, p.103.
7 J Reason, The Human Contribution: Unsafe Acts, Accidents and Heroic Recoveries, Ashgate, Manchester, 2008.
8 ST Coleman, A Practical Guide to Risk Management, Research Foundation of CFA Institute, Virginia, 2011, p.29.
9 J Reason, p.73.
10 H Howard, The Failure of Risk Management: Why It’s Broken and How to Fix It, Wiley, New York, 2009, p.109.
11 J Reason, p.79.
12 H Howard, p.112.