Peter Sandman interview in the aftermath of 9/11 1

In November 2001, prominent risk communicator, Peter Sandman, examined the 9/11 attacks in a long article trying to clarify the impact and the context of the attacks.  Shortly after the attacks I had the chance to interview Peter Sandman for the online magazine I was then publishing, safetyATWORK.  Below is the text of that 2001 interview.

“SAW: As a resident of New Jersey and a risk communicator, what effect has the September 11 attacks had?

PS: I was very lucky. I live a sufficient distance away, that neither I nor anyone really close to me was lost. But lots of people close to people close to me were lost. Everybody in this part of the country is one or two steps removed from someone who died that day. But, professionally, I’m trying to think through, as I assume anybody in risk communication would be trying to think through what we can say to our countrymen and countrywomen about living in a dangerous world. This is obviously a situation where the outrage is entirely justified. The last thing I want to be doing is telling people they ought not to be outraged. But it’s also a situation where the hazard is serious. Most of my work is in either a high-outrage low-hazard situation, where the risk communication job is to reduce the outrage, calm people down; or a high-hazard low-outrage situation, where the job is to increase the outrage, get people to protect themselves. September 11 and its aftermath have to be described as high-hazard high-outrage. Neither paradigm works. And yet clearly the message to people has got to be you need to live your life. You need to take what precautions you can take and recognise that you’re not going to be completely safe and live your life anyway. You need to get on aeroplanes, and go to ball games. You need to go into big cities. I think in the months ahead people like me are going to be trying to figure out how to say that and say it honestly and honourably and credibly to a population that desperately needs to hear it and understand it. More…

Peter Sandman in Australia Reply

On 22 September 2010, Dr Peter Sandman will be conducting a workshop in Sydney Australia entitled Precaution Advocacy – Risk Communication for Occupational Health and Safety and presented by the  NSW Minerals Council OHS Workshop  .

The NSW Minerals Council says

“This is a rare opportunity to hear from such a world renowned expert in crisis communication, precautionary advocacy, risk communication and outrage management.”

Having corresponded with Peter for many years and having interviewed him for a couple of hours several years back  I can say that I learned much (poor quality audio available HERE).  If I was in Sydney, this would be a must-attend event.  More information on the Sandman workshop is available by emailing the organiser.

For those who have not been exposed to Peter’s lectures and writings, he has a series of articles concerning BP’s Gulf of Mexico problems that are instructive.

Kevin Jones

Sandman lecture online Reply

In November 2009, Peter Sandman delivered the Berreth Lecture at the annual conference of the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC).  Significantly Sandman was asked not to present on risk communication but about his experiences in risk communication and how he came to prominence in the field.

The NPHIC has made the 65-minute video of his lecture available on-line. Sandman has the audio available through his website. The speech notes are also available but, as is his wont, Sandman diverges from the “script” frequently.

More…

Why have a SafetyAtWorkBlog? 2

Some people have mentioned to me that they find blogs a mysterious thing.  It’s a media that is gaining attention from mainstream media, in fact, most mainstream media have embraced blogging to supplement the “official” media content in newspapers, journals and on television.  Some blogs have become an important source of news and commentary feeding into the mainstream media.

SafetyAtWorkBlog does not provide all the safety news that is happening in Australia or elsewhere.  In fact nobody is.  But what we can do is select those items of news that we think have a broad appeal to safety professionals.

Also, in Australia, there are only a handful of writers and journalists who specialize in writing on OHS issues and there are many events, conferences, seminars, talks, podcasts, books and other information sources that fall under the radar of mainstream media.  It is in this niche that SafetyAtWorkBlog exists.

Commentary

Blogs were original a web-based log or a web diary where people can put down their thoughts of the day.  But they have become so much more and the feature that is most overlooked by readers is the capacity to comment on the articles posted to a blog.

There is some resemblance to “Letters to the Editor” in traditional media where issues can be raised but, more importantly, readers can comment on the news of the day or the thoughts of columnists, and can clarify inaccurate opinions.

The ability to respond to articles is very important to SafetyAtWorkBlog because we do not know everything about our profession.  OHS is a discipline that continues to evolve just as rapidly as new hazards appear.  The expert who says they know everything is a fool, the smart professional learns all the time.  That is one reason why people read SafetyAtWorkBlog but the blog can be so much better when readers provide their own opinions, particularly if what is said in the blog is wrong in some way.

The best example of reader comments in this blog was the response from Peter Sandman to a piece on a book by Cass Sunstein.  Sandman says

“…a few comments in the review, though flattering to me, are misleading about Sunstein.”

He goes on to list the article’s shortcomings.  One comment from Sandman was then disputed by another reader, Thomas Durkin.

This dialogue showed a terrific level of opinion and provides a better understanding of Sunstein and his place in US politics and government regulation than the solitary review that generated the comments.

News

SafetyAtWorkBlog is not an OHS news service, one can get that from hundreds of news aggregators (the bane of Rupert Murdoch) on the web.  SafetyAtWorkBlog provides commentary and opinion on things that are happening in the OHS world.  If the opinion is wrong or the logic has severe shortcomings or the content is inaccurate, blogs provide the opportunity to correct the information or to balance the opinion.

We have ALWAYS encouraged people to comment on articles we post.  If we can start a debate or help clarify an OHS concept, that’s great.  But if you have something to say about what we say, email it in or post a comment.  Unless it is defamatory or nasty or rude, it will be included and any points made will be genuinely considered and pondered on.

Kevin Jones

Evidence, subjectivity and myth 1

There is a big push for occupational safety and health decisions to be made on evidence.  OHS academics in Australia are particularly big on this and there is considerable validity in the lobbying but as academics can have a vested interest in research, the calls are often dismissed.

There is also, around the world, a questioning of the value and validity of the risk assessment process related to workplace safety.  In Europe, in particular, the business groups see risk assessment as a major unnecessary business cost (but then again, how many businesses even perform OHS risk assessments?).  Risk assessment has often been criticised because of its subjectivity.  In some circumstances, risk assessment may perpetuate workplace and safety myths.

In the absence of evidence, myths fill the gap.  Sometimes assessments, investigations, estimates and FOAFs (friend of a friend) add to the tenuous credibility of those myths.

Peter Sandman has talked about dispelling myths through risk communication.  One myth he discusses, the risks of flu vaccinations, is also touched on in an interview with Dr Aaron E. Carroll of the Indiana University School of Medicine on the ABC’s Life Matters program.

OHS professionals must seek evidence on workplace hazards so that their advice is sound but equally, myths must be countered.  The links in the paragraph above, along with the excellent website, www.snopes.com, can provide some assistance in how we can reduce the transmission of myths.

I am a big advocate of the “contrary”.  Only by asking questions about established beliefs and tenets can the flaws in our decision-making be illustrated.  Sometimes this is dismissed as being a “Devil’s Advocate” but the process does not advocate bad behaviours, it questions the basis for established behaviours – a process that many people, organisations AND business find enormously threatening.

As we get older or become socialised, we tend to forget the tale most of us heard as a child, The Emperor’s New Clothes.  This tale should be read regularly to remind us of how the contrary position, the quizzical, can be constructive and sometimes, revolutionary (even though in the tale the Emperor ignores the child’s spoken truth) but still provide evidence.

Kevin Jones

Worst Case Scenarios and Pandemics – 2005 interview Reply

In 2005 I had the great opportunity to spend some time with Peter Sandman, a world renowned risk communicator.  We spoke about worst case scenarios and risk communication in those times of avian influenza and smallpox threats.  The interview has gained additional poignancy in this time of swine flu.  

Although the audio is “noisy” as Collins St in Melbourne had more traffic on a Sunday morning than I expected, I think some readers may find this excerpt very useful at the moment.

Click on the magazine’s cover image below to download the interview transcript.

[For Peter Sandman's current commentary on swine flu, see http://www.psandman.com/index-infec.htm#swineflu1 and especially http://www.psandman.com/col/swinecomm.htm]

or Peter Sandman’s current commentary on swine flu, see

 

Kevin Jones

6i11 cover

Handwashing as a risk control 2

Everyone knows that we are cleaner for the washing of our hands.  The childhood fibs of our parents that potatoes will grow behind our ears if we don’t wash there regularly have been pretty much dismissed.  There was little evidence for the benefits of washing behind our ears other than the authority and wisdom of parents but for most of one’s life that’s enough (or at least till we turn and mistrust everything our parents say).

In Australia, OHS has been pushing for evidence-based decision making.  Some have twisted this noble aim into short-term empire building on concepts such as a “body of knowledge” (- the more important question should be why do particular people want to control this knowledge in the first place).  But evidence is important and over the last few years some researchers have been seeking the evidence for the safety benefits of hand-washing in infection control, particularly during times of epidemics or pandemics.

The current swine flu scare (it remains a “scare” in many parts of the world) is generating recommendations on personal hygiene, as reported in SafetyAtWorkBlog on yesterday, but is there evidence or is hand-washing a comforting distraction?

Earlier this year Jody Lanard and Peter Sandman wrote:

The “Cover Your Cough” page on the CDC’s seasonal flu website begins this way:

Serious respiratory illnesses like influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) are spread by: 

  •  
    • Coughing or sneezing
    • Unclean hands….

If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.

We have been unable to find a single study that supports this recommendation with regard to influenza. The World Health Organization Writing Group report on “Nonpharmaceutical Interventions for Pandemic Influenza” makes the same recommendation for flu specifically, but concedes that it has been made “more on the basis of plausible effectiveness than controlled studies.”

As for hand-washing, a Mayo Clinic publication on hand-washing includes flu on a list of infectious diseases “that are commonly spread through hand-to-hand contact.” The Government of Alberta’s “Influenza Self-Care” publication advises: “Wash Your Hands to Prevent Influenza…. Next to immunization, the single most important way to prevent influenza is to wash your hands often.”

But here’s what the World Health Organization Writing Group report says: “Most, but not all, controlled studies show a protective effect of handwashing in reducing upper respiratory infections…. Most of the infections studied were likely viral, but only a small percentage were due to influenza…. No studies appear to address influenza specifically.” 

The Lanard/Sandman article discusses at length the way that hand-washing may be affecting our approaches to other control measures such as vaccination.  It tries to cut through the hyperbole on influenza and if you are a health care worker, the full article is strongly recommended.

At the moment there is no clear evidence of the benefits of hand-washing and if this swine flu scare remains a scare for most people, one of the areas for further research should be the effectiveness, and role, of hand-washing in the control of pandemic infections.  It just may be that “universal precautions” should not be so unquestioningly universal.

Kevin Jones

Swine Flu – workplace preparations 2

There is swine flu information coming at us from all directions.  Thankfully in Australia the flu itself has not appeared from any direction but…

For those businesses that are not prepared for potential pandemics, don’t panic, but remember that you have known about this potential since before SARS and if you have not put any plans in place, it’s your own fault.

Now that the criticism is out of the way, if you are concerned, what you should do is hit the Australian internet sites that are relevant to pandemic preparation.  One particularly good and local (ie Australian) site is the Australian Government site on pandemic influenza.

There is a very useful Australian podcast on the issue available through ABC Radio.

It is also useful for companies in general to remind its employees about basic hygiene practices.  A particularly good source of work-related information on hygiene is at the government site for infection control for health care providers.

Dr Danilla Grando is a hygiene expert and Lecturer in Clinical Microbiology in the School of Applied Sciences at RMIT University in Melbourne and provides her take on this simple and effective hazard control measure 

wash_dry_hands“Research has shown that one of the most powerful weapons against the spread of respiratory illness, including any strain of influenza, is simply improving your hand hygiene.

We know that contact transmission is one of the key ways that people become infected by influenza. While flu is an airborne virus, people often fall sick from touching something that carries the influenza germs and then putting their hands in their mouths, often while eating.

Always washing your hands before meals is vital but using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser throughout the day is also extremely effective, and an essential tool in helping to prevent the spread of influenza.

Several years ago SafetyAtWorkBlog interviewed Peter Sandman, a world-renowned risk communicator.  He had been undertaking some work in Asia with the World Health Organisation around the bird-flu outbreaks.  He and Jody Lanard wrote a series of articles on communicating an imminent pandemic.  It should be obligatory reading for those at the forefront of public health initiatives at the moment but safety and risk managers may find some assistance in how to communicate with one’s own staff.

The initial response to the current swine flu is generating optimism and it is heartening to see so many government departments reacting in a planned way.  However we should remember the lessons of SARS and the lasting impact SARS had on travel and trade.

Click on the image below for a 2003 edition of Safety At Work magazine which includes several articles about SARS and pandemic risks generally.

Kevin Jones

419-cover

 

Vision statements = hypocrisy (mostly) Reply

 I have experienced two situations recently which made me question the value of corporate mission statements.

Recently the CEO of an Australian company spoke about how safety was a core value and how committed to safety she was.   She is a recognised leader in safety and directly involves herself in safety management and meetings. However, her employees in the audience were shaking their heads because the safety culture she espoused was not as widespread through the company structure as she believed.

The other situation was a staff meeting I attended with a regional CEO and International CEO where they were unaware that employees in regional offices and undertaking shiftwork had not been integrated into the corporation. In fact the shiftworkers had not been informed of the CEO visits until the last minute.  The company has “integration” as a corporate value.

Leadership (a most dubiously-applied concept in my mind) and vision statements may “come from the top” but they do not flow by themselves to the four corners of a company. They must be worked on, almost as a full time mission.

Vision statements have been promoted in so many corporations that have fallen over through mismanagement that statements have become a bit of a joke, in most circumstances.   Nothing kills motivation quicker than hypocrisy.

(This also occurs in organisations that begin a program of corporate restructure and positioning, and the first item on the agenda is a “sexy new logo.)

It is important to remember that Enron’s motto was “Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence.”  If one thinks that Enron is an unfair corporate example, look at one’s own company statement and seriously ask yourself whether all elements of the company are operating to those standards.  Perhaps, someone needs to provide corporate morality audits.

Lastly, any vision statement must accept and mention that the principal aim of any company is to make money (a fact I learnt from Peter Sandman).  To omit this reality immediately shows that the statement is not grounded and is simply management spin.

Kevin Jones