The four commandments applied to Risk Awareness

The four commandments applied to risk awareness. Risk awareness (Risk-aware behavior) is difficult to achieve. Traditionally, people tackle this with classic marketing practices such as posters, flyers, actions with promotional videos to work out the oh-so-coveted awareness. If there are more threats, there are more posters, more flyers, more videos, more rules about what can go wrong. It is precisely these commonly used methods as posters that don’t accomplish much. After years of trying this way, I think the Risk Management community may conclude: posters don’t help, it doesn’t make people more aware of the dangers around them. Neither do thick books full of rules help. However, the goal remains: people need to stop and think before they start anything.In this contribution I write my own opinion, not that of any organization
Author: Manu Steens

The cause…

The cause? Too many rules, thick books with codes of behavior that no one wants to read. What people need is an approach to behavior change with a minimum of rules and a maximum of priming (seeding the idea). (For priming, see also the book “Effective Behavior Change With The 7E Model” by Fran Bambust.)

Those rules exist, subject to systematic reinterpretation in a new framework. Risk-conscious behavior can then be reduced to the following four rules:

  1. Don’t destroy anything unless you can use the debris to make something better;
  2. Don’t hurt anyone unless it benefits them;
  3. Don’t hurt yourself unless it benefits you;
  4. Take your chances, unless it violates rules 1, 2 or 3.

But even these rules must be primed to the target groups. For that, you need to know the target groups. For risk management, these are divisible into individualists, egalitarians, hierarchists and fatalists. The largest group in this are the individualists: people who only pay attention when it concerns them, or their family. And where they can, they need it so much that they can use it both at home and at work. So a win-win situation. Something they can use also for raising the children, something simple that, if you interpret it correctly, gives you the right solution in all situations.


As stimulating examples, we use the idea of “did you know”. Thereby, we give tips on what one can do regarding risk situations such as sitting a lot on a chair, a crazy shooter in the building, an earthquake, a trip one wants to make… We use these as illustrations to prime the four commandments, so after each wist you that, we put a sentence referring to the rule.

So the examples become the following with this:

Did-you-know-that: earthquake         

Did you know not to crawl under a table or desk in an earthquake? Those are not sturdy enough to adequately protect you from crashing debris. Outside, you are safest.

If for some reason you cannot get outside, it is best to find a stronger point of the building where a “triangle of life” or life triangle can form. A triangle of life is created by falling large pieces of debris forming a triangle under which a person can survive in an earthquake. For example, you can lie down next to the armrest of a solid sofa, rolled into a ball.

This is an application of rules 3 and 4: don’t hurt yourself and seize your opportunities.

Did-you-know-that: sedentary work   

Did you know we sit too much? On average 9 hours a day, according to research. Our offices are designed so that we spend most of our time sitting: at your desk, in the conference room, in the refectory, … But prolonged sitting has negative effects on your health, including a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. Moreover, it is stressful for the back.

For good health, it is important to exercise at least half an hour every day as well as to avoid sitting still for long periods of time. Preferably stand up every 20 minutes and get some exercise after every hour of sedentary work. This can be facilitated by equipping the office with, for example, sit-stand tables and the possibility of standing meetings. By the way, did you know that you can also hold meetings while walking?

This is an application of rule 3: don’t hurt yourself.

Did-you-know-that: traveling abroad     

Did you know that traveling abroad can carry risks? Our bodies are less resistant to disease than you might think. One mosquito is enough to make an adult seriously ill in bed for a long time.

Therefore, always look up what you can do to protect yourself when traveling to beautiful and exotic places. For example, you can find a lot of tips on the websites of buiforeign affairs and the World Health Organization.  Besides general travel advice, those websites also provide tips on avoiding diseases and for physical safety.

This is an application of rule 3: don’t hurt yourself

The five “P’s”

Of course, in this behavior change project, you must respect the five “Ps.” These are:

  • Prepare: prepare behavior and support;
  • Prime: seed the idea (with repetition);
  • Pause: interrupt the automatic behavior;
  • Prove: prove the choice;
  • Program: practice and repeat.

One can take an extra “Pause” by holding a contest in which the contributors themselves think of more know-it-alls, rewarding and publishing the most original winner(s). In doing so, one then gives a penultimate “P” in the cycle: “Prove” of who is doing well. One continues to repeat this cycle in the “Program” step.

Afterwards, we can Evaluate: test, learn and adjust.

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields.

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