Skip to main content

About this book

This book offers a multidisciplinary perspective on perceived safety. It discusses the concept of safety from engineering, philosophy, and psychology angles, and considers various definitions of safety and its relationship to risk. Examining the categorization of safety and the measurement of risk, risk cultures, basic human needs and decision-making under uncertainty, the contributions demonstrate the practical implications and applications in areas such as health behavior, aviation and sports.

Topics covered include:

What is “safety” and is there “optimal safety” in engineering?

Philosophical perspectives on safety and risk

Psychological perspectives on perceived safety: social factors of feeling safe

Psychological perspectives on perceived safety: zero-risk bias, feelings & learned carelessness

Perception of aviation safety

Intended for both practitioners and academic researchers, this book appeals to anyone interested in decision-making and the perception and establishment of safety.

Table of Contents


Theoretical Aspects of Perceived Safety


Chapter 1. What Is “Safety” and Is There “Optimal Safety” in Engineering?

In this section a definition of the term “safety” based on freedom of resources is introduced. Such freedom of resources can also be used for the definition of the terms “danger” and “disaster”. Additionally, the terms “safety”, “danger” and “disaster” can be correlated to time horizons of planning. The introduced relationships will then be used for the discussion whether “optimal safety” is achievable or not. Currently, “optimal safety” is being intensively discussed in many disciplines such as the field of structural safety. Considering the definition of “safety”, this paper will show that “optimal safety” is rather a theoretical issue and cannot be achieved under real world conditions. This statement fits very well not only to considerations in the field of system theory, but also to empirical observations. It is suggested that the term “optimal safety” is introduced as an assurance measure for engineers rather than for the public. As a solution the concept of integral risk management is introduced. One of the properties of this concept is the possibility of continuous improvement and therefore no optimal solution is claimed.
Dirk Proske

Chapter 2. Categorization of Safety and Risk

Risks can be categorized and ranked based on different characteristics. Such characteristics can be causes of damages or consequences or magnitudes of risks. Categorizations may improve the understanding of risks and, even more importantly, may help decision-makers to deal properly with risks in terms of risk-informed decisions. However, it has often been shown that the categorization of risks cannot be completed because the definition of risks is challenging and the size of the risks depends strongly on the choice of risk parameter and context. For example, many statistical investigations have shown that health risks are of utmost importance for human lives since 95% of all deaths in developed countries are related to health problems. Other risk studies reveal that the greatest risks to humans are social failures such as war or unemployment since many health issues are related to social failures. Such categorizations are even more difficult for emerging risks related to new technologies or current changes in social systems. For such systems, experience and therefore statistical data is still missing. Additionally, some of these systems belong to the class of complex systems with unknown causal chains.
Dirk Proske

Chapter 3. Philosophical Perspectives on Safety and Risk

Humans care about themselves and their future. If nothing bad can happen, they are safe. If they know something for certain, they have certainty. But, as finite beings, humans do not enjoy much certainty. And in a dynamic world, they are rarely safe. “Risk” is one of the concepts that may help to come to terms with this. It is, however, notoriously unclear. That is why this text deals, in its first parts, with terminology. Seven basic uses of the term “risk” are distinguished, as well as some attributes like “negative”, “hypothetical”, “meta” or “systemic”. The main objective of this text, however, is a discussion of rational and moral aspects of risk-taking, and of risk governance within what will be called “risk cultures”. Culture, in this analysis, has three dimensions, a physical, an informational, and a social. Typically, only the adequate interplay of all the components in the three dimensions allows for a society, and an individual as its part, to adequately deal with risks. It is within—historically variable—risk cultures that risks are transformed. And it is a signature of modernity that risk cultures have become deliberate risk cultures.
Niels Gottschalk-Mazouz

Chapter 4. Psychological Perspectives on Perceived Safety: Social Factors of Feeling Safe

What makes people feel safe? How do people conclude whether a certain situation, choice, or behavior is safe or not? In the present chapter we take the view that social factors influence perceived safety. We discuss the social determinants of perceived safety both as a general subjective state and as a safety-related estimation or judgment. From this perspective, we first discuss what humans need to feel safe. We present psychological insights on basic human needs and argue that the fulfillment of those needs is a general condition for the state of perceived safety. Second, we discuss how social factors (i.e. what others do and say and how one relates to these others) influence safety judgments and decisions. We illustrate how individuals adapt their judgments and behaviors to group norms and discuss why group discussions can lead to extreme judgments and decisions. We aim to complement the existing literature on perceived safety by highlighting the importance of social factors of safety perception.
Eric Eller, Dieter Frey

Chapter 5. Psychological Perspectives on Perceived Safety: Zero-Risk Bias, Feelings and Learned Carelessness

In this chapter, we introduce three common decision-making strategies that humans apply in situations of risk and uncertainty. Due to cognitive limitations, human beings often simplify complex decisions and use heuristics. People strive for safety, but tend to overweigh the value of zero risk in comparison to very small risks. Choosing the zero-risk solution is a heuristic that reduces complexity by eliminating the need to weigh statistical information, but may result in suboptimal decisions, which has been termed the zero-risk bias. Another strategy is rooted in the way humans process information. According to dual-process theories, information is processed intuitively (System 1) or analytically (System 2). Intuitive reactions, including affect and emotions, usually precede and often override analytical (cognitive) evaluations. The affect heuristic states that people judge risk information based on subtle feelings of positivity or negativity. A good feeling can therefore result in perceived safety despite diverging statistical information. Finally, one’s attitude toward risks may be acquired through certain learning experiences. People who engage in risky behavior without encountering negative consequences may conclude that ‘everything is fine and will remain fine,’ which has been termed learned carelessness. Advantages and disadvantages of these strategies as well as practical implications, including decision aids and nudges, are discussed.
Martina Raue, Elisabeth Schneider

Chapter 6. The Assessment of Risk Perception: Influence of Answer Format, Risk Perspective and Unrealistic Optimism

Risk is a very complex construct and, as such, can be studied from various perspectives. In the present chapter we discuss the influences of answer format on risk assessment, the chosen perspective from which a risk is assessed and describe two systems of probabilistic reasoning. Although many different measurements exist today, there is no clear methodological advice as to which kind of instrument is appropriate in a given context. As a suggestion, we present the risk assessment matrix (RAM), a model developed to explore the impact of both answer format and risk perspective on risk assessment. The RAM combines both factors and addresses the question of how the measurement of subjective perceived risk is influenced by psychological factors triggered by methodological aspects.
Eva Lermer, Bernhard Streicher, Martina Raue, Dieter Frey

Practical Examples of Perceived Safety


Chapter 7. The Concept of Risk Perception in Health-Related Behavior Theory and Behavior Change

Messages aiming to increase the public’s perception of health and safety risks, such as the spread of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, are omnipresent. In these cases, the basic assumption often is that a heightened level of risk perception should lead to more protective behaviours like proper hand hygiene in hospitals. The notion that people’s perception of health risks influences their risk-taking or safety behaviour is prevalent both in health behaviour theories and applied health communication. However, research findings on the connection between risk perception and health-related behaviour are not clear-cut. In the present chapter, we look at the different operationalisations of the term risk perception and discuss several methodological issues that are widespread in the health risk perception literature which might have led to inconclusive results. Overall, even though the effect sizes are generally moderate, the majority of research findings indicate that risk perception influences health- and safety-related behaviour. This was shown both in research looking at a variety of different health-related behaviours at the same time as well as in studies only concerned with specific activities such as hand hygiene and vaccination. Therefore, risk perception as a concept truly deserves its place in health behaviour theory and behaviour change interventions. Some implications of these findings on intervention design are discussed.
Susanne Gaube, Eva Lermer, Peter Fischer

Chapter 8. Perception of Aviation Safety

Aviation professionals and the general population have different perceptions of aviation safety. In the general population, there is a conflict between facts and fears. People know that commercial aviation is extremely safe, but they do not always feel safe and often make decisions based on those feelings. For aviation professionals, the conflict is between facts and facts, with managers and regulators struggling to weigh costs and benefits with risks in making safety related decisions. In this chapter the similarities and differences between lay and professional perceptions of aviation safety, the factors that affect these perceptions, and the effect of these perceptions on decisions are explored.
Robert Mauro

Chapter 9. Perceived Safety While Engaging in Risk Sports

Risk sports such as mountaineering, climbing, or backcountry skiing have become quite popular and more easily accessible for the general population. Easy access and added protection may increase perceived safety and result in underestimations of harm. In this chapter, we discuss the interplay of cognition, emotions and bodily states when judging risks while being physically active. We introduce three field and one laboratory study, in which we investigated the influence of physical activity on risk perception. In the field studies, less experienced participants made lower risk judgments under physical activity than before the activity. In the laboratory study, general health-related risks were judged as lower under physical activity. Thus, our findings indicate that physical activity does affect risk judgements. We discuss practical implications on how to support especially less experienced people in making good judgments when engaging in risky activities.
Martina Raue, Bernhard Streicher, Eva Lermer, Dieter Frey
Additional information

Premium Partner

    image credits