The 10 Factors of Risk Tolerance

As a safety professional, you can positively shape the risk decision making of your crewmembers. Although they may identify hazards and understand the outcome, a variety of factors may still influence them to accept more risk than they should.

Let’s take a look at what can influence risk tolerance and what safety leaders can do to shape those behaviors.

1. Overestimating capability (younger people) and experience (role models). Reflect on your role as a mentor, admit that despite your experience the exposure is still there. Acknowledge skill but reinforce

policies and procedures.

2. Confidence in equipment. Overconfidence in technology increases risk tolerance. Ensure technical training captures the limits of equipment and engineering. Make sure crewmembers know how to gauge risk.

Teach them to ask, “What if it fails?”

3. Familiarity resulting in complacency. Encourage crewmembers to focus on the task like it’s the first time they have done it. How would I teach this to a new person? Stop and think. Draw from knowledge, skill and techniques.

4. Underestimating seriousness of the outcome. A hazard could involve a “pinch point” but the outcome actually results in amputation or crushing. Hazard identification should better define the outcome. Get people to ask, “How bad could it really be?” Teach crewmembers worst-case scenarios.

5.Voluntary actions and being in control. Key factor in off-duty risk (people are 28 times more likely to be hurt off the job). Overconfidence and false sense of control

may lead to underestimating risks. Integrate “stop and think” moments into personal activities. Use checklists to improve situational awareness

6. Personal experience with an outcome. If you’ve seen a mishap or a near-miss that ended badly, you will be less tolerant of the risk. However, as incident rates improve, fewer leaders will have had these experiences resulting in skepticism. Know what incidents have occurred and point out the consequences. Tell sea stories.

7. Cost of non-compliance. Identify the cost of noncompliance and increase where necessary. As the actual or perceived cost increases, the risk tolerance decreases. Remove barriers and reward those who gauge risks and mitigate the factors that increase the potential for error.

8. Confidence in PPE and rescue. Relying solely on PPE and rescue efforts increases risk tolerance. Emphasize the limits of protection and rescue measures. Ensure crewmembers understand these as “last line of defense” or “not to be relied upon” controls.

9. Potential profit or gain. Perceived or actual (fiscal, emotional, physical) gains increase or decrease risk tolerance. Remove rewards for risk taking. Eliminate barriers to doing it the right way. Bring these concepts into leadership discussions to increase awareness.

10. Role models accepting risk. Leaders’ actions influence the mindset, behavior and decision-making abilities of their workers. Identify and address risk-taking leadership (in the appropriate situations). Recognize perceived pressure that could lead to erosion of standards and address immediately.