Why Do People Ignore Safety Warnings?

Motorcyclists grumble about wearing a helmet. Residents resist evacuating under an imminent threat of a hurricane. Employers circumvent safety regulations. Workers grouse about hard hats, safety meetings, and fire drills. Why in the world do people behave this way?

Safety requires planning, training, and effort

Human nature, mostly. Bombarded with “Breaking News” alerts, people tend to become desensitized to threats to safety and security — the “cry wolf” scenario. Employers focus on production and rebuff distractions that hinder it. Most commonly, there is a prevailing attitude that “It won’t happen to me.” Despite all those breaking news accounts of seemingly constant catastrophe, chances are it really won’t happen to you. Risk-takers generally survive. Dams typically don’t break. And earthquakes happen elsewhere. The assumption that this will always be the case is rewarded time and time again when nothing bad happens. Preparing to prevent injury or avoid calamity feels like a waste of time, money, and effort in the minutia of life when the probability of disaster seems vague or inconceivable.

Until it does happen.

That is when the issue of prevention becomes the rallying cry; in the heat of human emotion in the wake of a terrible event. “How could we/they have allowed this to happen?” “What can we/they do to make sure it never happens again?”

Even a near miss can mean a wakeup call. Talking on a cell phone while driving and suddenly veering into oncoming traffic will often get the blood pumping and the sweat flowing enough to make one hang up once and for all. A motorcycle crash on hard pavement will have the disgruntled helmet-wearer rethink his opposition to wearing one.

Humans expect a predictable, orderly world in which safety is a given. But safety doesn’t occur by simply expecting it to be there; it requires forethought, preparation, training, guidelines, and conscientious parents and employers. It also requires time, money, and effort.

Fighting human nature is a risk worth taking to keep our humanity safe. Because bad things really do happen.

1 thought on “Why Do People Ignore Safety Warnings?

  1. Yep – maybe when people stop asking everyone else to cure them of their problems, they’ll learn that they’re capable of preventing the disaster. I loved the public service announcement the BBC did about texting while driving, and I’m glad to see you covering such a pertinent topic.

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