Posted: 2001
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Article SummaryThis manual on how to use risk comparisons and risk statistics was commissioned to help chemical plant managers explain air emissions to their neighbors. Chapter III on risk comparisons, especially, is still relevant. Later research hasn’t borne out all its seat-of-the-pants conclusions, but the advice at the end of the chapter about the worst risk comparisons holds firm – in my terms these comparisons fail (especially when people are outraged) because they try to compare the hazard of high-outrage and low-outrage risks. The other chapters are also useful and not really outdated, I think. The appendices are both outdated and all too likely to be misused. They’re what the client originally wanted most. Vincent Covello, Paul Slovic, and I wrote the rest of the manual to soften them.

Risk Communication, Risk Statistics,
and Risk Comparisons:
A Manual for Plant Managers

Washington, DC: Chemical Manufacturers Association, 1988

Appendix C
Risk Perception Factors

Table C.1
Factors Important
in Risk Perception and Evaluation

Factor Conditions Associated with Increased Public Concern Conditions Associated with Decreased Public Concern
Catastrophic Potential Fatalities and Injuries Grouped in Time and Space Fatalities and Injuries Scattered and Random
Familiarity Unfamiliar Familiar
Understanding Mechanisms or Process Not Understood Mechanisms or Process Understood
Uncertainty Risks Scientifically Unknown or Uncertain Risks Known to Science
Controllability (Personal) Uncontrollable Controllable
Voluntariness of Exposure Involuntary Voluntary
Effects on Children Children Specifically at Risk Children Not Specifically at Risk
Effects Manifestation Delayed Effects Immediate Effects
Effects on Future Generations Risk to Future Generations No Risk to Future Generations
Victim Identity Identifiable Victims Statistical Victims
Dread Effects Dreaded Effects Not Dreaded
Trust in Institutions Lack of Trust in Responsible Institutions Trust in Responsible Institutions
Media Attention Much Media Attention Little Media Attention
Accident History Major and Sometimes Minor Accidents No Major or Minor Accidents
Equity Inequitable Distribution of Risks and Benefits Equitable Distribution of Risks and Benefits
Benefits Unclear Benefits Clear Benefits
Reversibility Effects Irreversible Effects Reversible
Origin Caused by Human Actions or Failures Caused by Acts of Nature or God
Note: In selecting risks to be compared, it is helpful to keep these distinctions in mind. Risk comparisons that ignore these distinctions are likely to backfire (e.g., comparing voluntary to involuntary risks) unless appropriate qualifications are made (see text).

Copyright © 1988 by Chemical Manufacturers Association

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