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