The trouble with people, is they don’t respond to risk. Not wholly true, in fact we are very attuned to immediate risk. We understand walking out in front of a car, jumping a red light, breaking the speed limit. We are not good at evaluating delayed risk. Buying Euros now in case the Pound slumps, eating healthy and exercising to increase lifespan, reducing carbon to tackle climate change, installing emergency lighting in case of power cuts.

Getting people to take a delayed risk seriously is near impossible, unless you are talking to the risk averse. Most people just can’t see delayed risk as an understandable outcome. There are too many what ifs.

Speed camera
UK speed camera gives us a warning of the risk of speeding

If I speed, I can avert the short-term risk, fit a GPS camera detector, evaluate what I might hit, or look far enough ahead to see the police car parked on the motorway bridge. I can understand the immediacy of it, I can react as the possible pain is close. The actions I can take are both understandable and easy to balance with the outcomes.

What about delayed risk? If I eat the pizza once, it won’t do any harm, I can balance the risk later with no pizza next week or going to the gym next year. I have time and time allows me the get out I need. I can fill that time with all sorts of strategies to balance the risk. Time blurs risk for most of us.

The problem with delayed risk is we really can’t see the outcome. It’s too distant, too unconnected. For instance, what are the chances that I get the emergency lighting wrong and that there is a power failure? Even if there were a failure, what are the chances someone would get hurt? The chances are higher than you might think. UK power outages increased by 19%, an increase of 103 occurrences between 2014 and 2016. They affected over a million people, some 3% of the population. Not only that but the most likely hazards at work are falls and trips. Combine a lack of light say on the stairs and those hazards turn into awful injuries, even death.

I remember one evening in Oxford, seeing diners eat by candle light (acceptable), staff cook by the light of the gas hob (not safe) and retailers sit inside dark stores waiting for the power to return. In a major UK city that night, on one street I estimate 30% of retail frontages had insufficient or inoperative emergency lighting. Is that acceptable? The answer is a clear No. Legislation for one requires all places of work and those where the public gather to have emergency lighting should the normal lighting fail. Given the increase in power cuts estimated for the future, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll need an emergency backup plan, or that the plan you have needs some attention.

Blocked escape route
Exit signs need to be visible and escape routes need to be clear and well lit considering the risks (think age, alcohol, drugs, blockages, panic etc.)

Sure, installing emergency lighting is addressing a delayed risk, it is very difficult to see the outcome happening, but if your building is one that experiences a power cut, and if at the same time your employee is one of the 1.6% of workers who injure themselves at work, or it’s your customer who trips and falls in the dark because the lighting failed to show the furniture stored in the toilet corridor, then you could be exposing yourself to rather an immediate risk. In a time of increasing litigation, those chances coinciding could end you up in a court case that costs you personally.

Delayed risk is about being able to see and understand the outcome. Time normally blurs the view of any pain and so we ignore it. Yet we insure against so many delayed risks. Emergency lighting, designed by a competent person, installed by someone who understands what they are doing, and maintained and tested by someone with your interest at heart is an insurance policy. Once you understand the risk, perhaps its time to address the issue.

That brings us to competent advice… and there is a whole other risk!

Get in touch to learn more about emergency lighting, legislation, risk, design or competence.

By maclighter

A Chartered Engineer in Lighting, though trained in mechanical, with 30 years lighting design, technical, manufacture and marketing experience. A trusted mentor, designer, emergency and DIALux trainer, speaker and past president of the Society of Light and Lighting. Get in touch if I can help you out.