What is the Relationship Between Safety and Risk?

It is no surprise that safety and risk management are among the most critical issues in the transportation industry. According to The United States Department of Labor, “Workers in the trucking industry experienced the most fatalities of all occupations, accounting for 12 percent of all worker deaths”.  Additionally, truck drivers have more nonfatal injuries than workers in any other occupation. Increasing safety is a top priority for all trucking companies, as well as for drivers themselves. After all, the drivers are the ones on the front line. Teaching drivers to be safe will reduce fatalities and injuries. Driver behavior is key to accomplishing this goal. A better understanding of the relationships between safety & risk and control & behavior can encourage drivers to change behavior in response to driving risk factors. This will increase safety.

What is Safety and Risk?

Safety is the freedom from risk.  If you want to increase safety, you must first consider risk. Risk is the “probability or threat of damage, injury, liability or loss, or any other negative occurrence that is caused by external or internal vulnerabilities, and that may be avoided by preemptive action” (Business Dictionary).  Note that risk can be avoided by preemptive action. Herein lies the message we want to make sure all drivers understand. Behavior modification can increase safety. This is due to the fact that safety and risk have an inverse relationship. When one goes up, the other goes down. To increase safety, you need to decrease risk.


What Affects Risk?

Since safety is directly related to risk, drivers must understand and be aware of factors that affect risk. A variety of factors govern risk. The key difference is control. Drivers can control some but not all risk factors. For example, controllable risk factors include driver behavior and the condition of the driver’s vehicle. Uncontrollable risk factors include other drivers’ behavior and the weather. So, how can drivers increase safety when they cannot control all the risk factors? The answer: Drivers must modify their own behavior, which is controllable, to compensate for uncontrollable risk factors. This requires awareness of risk factors and a willingness to modify their own actions. The more uncontrollable risks a driver faces in any given situation, the more the driver should modify his/her behavior.

Can Safe Behaviors Help?

For example, consider a driver that is traveling through downtown Boston on a snowy day at rush hour. The driver cannot control the traffic, weather conditions or the actions of other drivers, but he/she can still increase safety in this high-risk situation by using safe behaviors. The driver can maintain a safe following distance, reduce speed, increase awareness of the space around the vehicle, and communicate with other drivers. These behaviors will decrease risk and increase safety. On the other hand, unsafe driver behavior can increase risk. The driver could choose to text and drive, exceed safe following distance and speed, or not pay attention to his/her surroundings. These driver-behaviors will increase risk and decrease safety.


Decrease Risk to Increase Safety.

In sum, we need to decrease risk in order to increase safety. Safety is defined as freedom from risk and risk is the possibility of suffering harm or loss. Both controllable and uncontrollable factors affect risk. Awareness of these factors and a willingness to manage controllable risk by modifying driver behavior is essential to any safety and risk management goals. In all circumstances, safe behavior drives risk down and increases safety.