Core elements of safe behavior

Our brain has several processes that together take care of our personal safety. A simplified model is shown here. In reality all processes are mutually interconnected.

core elements of safe behavior

Risk sensitivity

Risk sensitivity is the perception of all risky stimuli in our environment. It has preprogrammed elements e.g. the fear of heights or snakes and is enriched during our lifetimes with learned risks e.g. a car or a chemical substance.

Risk understanding

Risk understanding is our continuous scan on risks and unfinished business. This scanning is focused on our recent behavior, on what we are doing now and on our plans.

Risk detection

Risk detection is the result of the combination of the two previous processes. It can be seen as the on/off switch of all safety behavior: Safe behavior is a result of a sense of unsafety.

Risk evaluation

Risk evaluation is the assessment of whether we can handle the risk and have an appropriate safety margin. Overestimation of our safety skills is a major problem.

Perception of rules

Perception of rules is connected to the permanent cost/benefit evaluation of rules and the appropriate level of investments we are willing to make concerning safe behavior.


Readiness is the activity level that our brain and our body needs to have to perform the required tasks. What we call stress is the high end on the scale of readiness. A too high or too low level of readiness make us more accident prone.

Perception of safety stimuli

Perception of safety stimuli is the area that is sometimes referred to as priming. When we perceive more safety related stimuli, we generate more safety related behavior. Safety campaigns work!

Perception of team behavior

Perception of team behavior: mankind has survived as a group animal. We don’t want to deviate too much from the group, even if it is behaving unsafely.

Behaving safely

Behaving safely: the outcome of all brain processes. Realize that safe behavior is mostly nonconscious. Safety must be stored in our automated processes.