Key Takeaways
  • The reasons individuals place themselves or others in harm's way may not be readily apparent. Emotions may play a deeper role than workers believe.

  • Acting contrary to known safe work practices is often cited as a failure of judgment on the part of the worker for which the sole remedy is often admonishment for the behavior.

  • Absent any form of impairment, whether from substance or fatigue, this view is too narrow in focus to be of much value when seeking causation and may hinder the discovery and learning processes used to prevent recurrence.

Leaders seeking to achieve fast results through an incident investigation may overlook key motivators or competing interests affecting behaviors that drive workers to take risk. Often, the incident investigation effort is cursory and born out of a compliance necessity rather than for the learning and prevention experience, which is akin to checking the box and moving to the next priority. Workers themselves may not be cognizant of their behaviors and choices that lead to injuries and loss.

Individuals rationalizing whether to take a risk suggests that there is an understood level of adverse consequence as a possible outcome of their actions. This is a broad statement and an overgeneralization of the complexity of thought processes and actions that take place in a matter of seconds. Budgett, O'Carroll and Pfannkuch (2015) comment that "As a concept, risk can refer to a probability or to a consequence or to the product of probability and consequence" (p. 331). Probability enters as a decision-making mediator of a potential outcome and becomes a measure of the risk frequency and severity as to whether one will act knowing the possibility and extent of harm.

Forethought may not be as ever-present as one might assume because many of our decisions are reflectively and emotionally made at a subconscious level. This article explores how emotions serve as a factor in why people take risks and how emotions may motivate actions that may lead to harm, specifically as it relates to the work environment.

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