Growing up with a health and safety professional as a father, my development could’ve gone one of two ways. There’s still a teenage punk fan somewhere inside me screaming “rebel, stick it to the man”, but given that I run a consultancy focussed on engaging organisations in better safety culture I’ve picked up attitudes that you might deem more laudable as safety excellence.
I was initially stunned by an article in the Guardian entitled ‘Cycle helmets – I defend to the last the right not to wear one’. I find it unimaginable that anyone would ride a bike without a helmet. I frequently tut to myself like Steve when I see families riding their bikes in the park, parents without helmets yet their kids with.
I berate my friends if they dare to even consider cycling without head protection and I’ve already begun the battle with my son to make sure he wears a helmet whenever he’s on wheels. Even those promotional ads for the ‘Boris bikes’ scheme in London make me positively bristle with rage when I see smiling people cycling through the city with no helmets on.
Will this potential law to force people to wear helmets help? I certainly think so, but law or no law I’ll still make sure everyone I know (myself included) wears a helmet whenever venturing out on a ride.
What the facts say
Delving into the evidence base for and against the use of helmets whilst cycling, it’s fascinating to find that the rational case is less clear cut than you might think.
Does this shake my belief in helmets? Well, there seems to be the rather obvious fact that if you fall off your bike onto your head, surely you’re better served with protection around it than none?
Yet here was a, presumably, intelligent journalist, with horrific facial and bodily injuries, objecting to a new law because of civil liberties and a less than compelling statistical evidence base.
There’s more to getting people to act safely than rules and regulations alone.
This is a classic case – where people have a tendency to favour information which confirms their attitudes, values and beliefs and resist changing their minds despite information to the contrary.
And this presents a big problem in the workplace because people think that imposing safety rules alone will do the job. Lots of head injuries? Simple solution: let’s make hard hats mandatory wherever people work. But that’s rarely enough.
With the wrong attitudes people will rally against this approach – kicking and screaming because they simply don’t want to be proven wrong. So it’s this attitude that you must focus upon, not the rule.
Tough isn’t it? Look on the positive side though; once you get the right attitudes it creates confirmation bias in the opposite direction, so back-pedalling ceases to be an option (providing you grow a supportive safety culture of course!).