We have only just realized that fetuses have totally different
sensitivities from adults - yet your "safety tests" are typically done
on adult animals,
not on developing fetuses.
Strategically, you need to deal with your adversaries' "outrage" by
offering simple truths. Honestly and wisdom dictate that you should
express that you are aware that all industrial processes present risks
and that you are taking your responsibilities in this regard very
seriously. In fact, you have programs in place to keep a check on safety
concerns and you would be glad to show them these.
The Paling Perspective Scale gains much of its impact and ready
acceptance by the public by reaffirming that virtually noting is totally
"safe." In reality, most things in life come with some level of risk
attached to them. This understanding moves the discussion forward from
"Is this really a risk?" to "How relatively risky is this compared to
all the other risks in our lives and what should we do about it?"
5. Facilitate working together to research their concerns
Build on your offer to look over the information that was at the root of
the concerns and arrange a follow up meeting to report back. Offer to
show them the safety procedures you have in place and how safety is
monitored. Extend the offer indefinitely in case they are not ready for
that immediately. Make available resources outside of your own company
(e.g. regulators, press, etc.) for additional input.
At this point you can also introduce The Paling Perspective Scale as a
valuable new communications tool that helps members of the public and
non-technical people make sense of relative risks.
6. Offer them a way to sort out for themselves "What's worth worrying
Demonstrate how they can use The Paling Perspective Scale themselves to
easily sort out relative risks. Stress that the scale was developed to
be transparently fair so that anyone, even without technical training,
can trust it. Citizens need not feel at the mercy of businesses,
politician or environmental activists. They can draw their own
conclusions. If they wish, let them invite others of their choosing to
work with you "to establish a better understanding of the facts."
The Paling Perspective Scale provides a shared platform for interested
individuals to follow up on their concerns by using risk figures from
all sources (including opponents). Then, data can be placed on a simple
chart, side by side with risks with which the public is familiar. Even
if contrary opinions are expressed, the process of using the scale moves
the issue towards dialog in which facts are being considered and away
from emotional anecdotes.
7. Work together to establish the "Home Base Zone."
As well as taking the figures in the book, work together at putting your
own figures for "risks which we are all at home with" on a blank scale.
Fill in the "Home Base Zone" using figures from official sources (e.g.
Accident Facts, published by the National Safety Council 1-800-621-7619,
or Statistical Abstract of the United States, 301-457-1171.) Invite your
new partners to get independent figures from any source they choose to
place on the chart for comparison.
The question to use when asking for figures is "What is your estimate of
the odds (expressed as chances in a million per year) of whatever is of
concern) increasing the risks of (poisoning, birth defects, etc.) to
people like me / my kids / community?"
A most important paradigm shift inevitably results from an awareness of
the "Home Base Zone" of The Paling Perspective Scale. People view all
their concerns differently once they recognize that there are so many
real risks with slim odds that we all encounter every moment of the
every day - and basically ignore as we get on and live our lives. There
is an inevitable curiosity then to put new risks into perspective by
relating them to the sorts of risks we all know about.
8. Compare the critics' concerns with the "Home Base Zone."
Once citizens "get" the concept of a Home Base Zone on the chart, they
are immediately interested in seeing where you believe the risks from
your businesses fall on the chart. Invite your new partners to get
figures from others - perhaps your old antagonists - and put them on the
chart too. Then ask them to discuss their findings with you so you have
a fair chance to be kept in the loop.
This unusual openness has many benefits. First, it greatly diffuses
suspicious feeling towards your business since it is clear that you are
not trying to hid anything. Also, it allows the discussion to be focused
on real issues and not be sidetracked by emotional claims as would
otherwise certainly take place. Using The Paling Perspective Scale
allows on particular risk to be viewed in relation to other risks in the
community, without it being taken out of context.
9. Consider pro-active risk communication an investment.
Recognizing that good risk communication is an ongoing project which
should not be abandoned when things are going right. Plant managers
wouldn't remove safety valves just because the equipment has not blown
up over the past five years! Take the same approach to your investment
in risk communication.
Be aware that however well you present your data, your company's
credibility will rest more on a good long-term performance record, than
on any figures. Good community relations are crucial. The Paling
Perspective Scale provides a simple, common structure for people from
business and the community to work together on a long-term basis.
10. How to handle hostile activists.
In these special cases, we must recognize that when seasoned activists
challenge business, it is not because they seek to put risks into
perspective but to get a forum for their rhetoric and to recruit others
to their cause. Such people will not be "reasonable" or respond to
empathy, therefore a different approach must be used.
Businesses, of course, must accept their responsibilities for how they
manage risks and must address all reasonable concerns. But now, as well
as justifying your company's position in the traditional ways, you
should challenge the activists to state what level of risk they believe
they are dealing with. If time permits, have them put their risk
estimates on the chart next to yours, along with the "Home Base Zone"
Since The Paling Perspective Scale is so simple to understand and is so
clearly fair, it can be offered as a way to move away from emotions and
focus instead on facts. Activists who are unwilling to justify their
case on such an obviously unbiased scale come off as not being able to
back up their claims. Alternatively, if they do provide figures and then
are unwilling to concede that all risks should be seen in perspective,
then the public become aware that your critics are possibly making a
mountain out of a molehill.
Go Back to Top
"Home Base Zone"
William Reilly, a widely respected former administrator of the EPA,
clearly made the case for adopting a better tool to effectively
communicate relative risks. He summarized the main benefit in these
"Using risk as a common denominator creates a measurement that lets us
distinguish between the environmental equivalents of heart attacks from
indigestion, and broken bones from bruises."
John Paling & Co., Inc.
5822 N.W. 91st Boulevard
Gainesville, FL 32653