Clear and Present vs. Experience-Based Dangers

July 24 2023
By: Shawn M. Galloway

We all take risks, different kinds, but we all do it. After all, without risk-taking, progress is stymied. As we face these risks, personal experiences and the experiences of those we trust affect our perceptions of risk. These perceptions and our risk tolerance levels influence our decisions when facing a risk to move forward or choosing another course of action. Some risks invoke immediate fear. Others are not so obvious if you are unfamiliar with the risk or outcome potential.

Sign that reads, DANGER KEEP OUT.

In 1919, the United States Supreme Court invented the term "clear and present danger," which was later popularized by the 1994 movie of the same name. The term is used to indicate a present, immediate and certain threat that will cause death or serious physical harm. We all can agree that some risks will surely turn out terribly painful if taken. These represent a clear and present danger. Other risks are not so obvious, and the severity potential is unpredictable.

A toddler crawling on the unguarded edge of a couch will eventually fall off, hopefully onto an abundantly padded, soft surface. Whether you understand how gravity works or not, its effects are predictable. Through experience, however, the toddler and the oblivious parents learn from this experience, and hopefully the risk is controlled in the future.

Which risks in your operations or family does everyone agree present a clear and present danger? Which risks require experience to identify? Never take perceptions of risk for granted. They are constantly changing and require constant calibration at work and home.

"Everywhere we go there is always an element of risk; the longevity of life is awarded to those who recognize this." — Shawn M. Galloway

"Paying attention without a contingency plan leave us with the status quo." — Ahmed Al-Ansari

"Risk comes from not knowing what you're doing." — Warren Buffett

Shawn M. Galloway

Shawn M. Galloway is CEO of the global consultancy ProAct Safety. He is a trusted advisor, professional keynote speaker, and author of several bestselling books on safety strategy, culture, leadership, and behavior-based safety. He is a monthly columnist for several magazines and one of the most prolific contributors in the industry, having also authored over 700 podcasts, 200 articles, and 100 videos. Shawn has received awards and recognition for his significant contributions from the American Society of Safety Professionals, National Safety Council's Top 40 Rising Stars and Top Ten Speakers, EHS Today Magazine's 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS, ISHN Magazine's POWER 101 - Leaders of the EHS World and their newest list: 50 Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, Pro-Sapien's list of The Top 11 Health and Safety Influencers and is an Avetta Distinguished Fellow.

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