Femke Rijpma

Femke Rijpma

Femke first came into contact with welding technology in her role as 3M Application Engineer. In order to better understand and help her clients, especially welders, Femke attended a welding training. Welding fascinated her so much that her employer allowed her to fully focus on the safety of welders.

Articles by Femke

Personal protection

Safety – What is it? Part 2

Instinctive natural behaviour How does our instinctive natural behaviour affect our safety in the modern industrial working environment? In other words: can we make good

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Safety – What is it? Part 2

Instinctive natural behaviour

How does our instinctive natural behaviour affect our safety in the modern industrial working environment? In other words: can we make good use of our naturally developed instincts and our natural behaviour, such as risk assessment, in a modern industrial environment? 

To be able to say something about this, it is useful to first take a look at what instinctive natural behaviour we then encounter.

The currently most accepted theory is that modern man (Homo Sapiens Sapiens) originated about 200,000 years ago*. Humans belong to the order of Primates. The evolutionary history of primates goes back some 60 million years, based on the now known archaeological finds of fossil bone remains. Our instincts and behaviors have evolved over a very long period of time. 

The Industrial Revolution began around 1750. This means that the modern industrial world is only a few hundred years old. Then you can imagine that there is quite a difference between instinct and behaviour that was useful in the ‘old world’ and instinct and behaviour that is useful in that new industrial world.

Now, of course, we also need to know something about danger in order to answer the question.

Types of danger

I have classified DANGER into 4 categories:

Classification of Danger

Consequences of danger

I also put the corresponding effect on the body in a table:

What do we do in case of danger?

I also put the corresponding effect on the body in a table:

In table 3, the 4th box is empty. We have no instinct for this and no experience at our disposal. We can hardly imagine it either. When you tell others that you have cut yourself with a knife or have come between a door with your finger, everyone immediately feels uncomfortable. For the danger in Group 4 applies: you only know what it’s like to have cancer or COPD when you have it. You cannot explain what it feels like to someone else. We can’t imagine it, we can’t feel it.

Maybe we can put in the 4th box that when you’ve experienced it with someone close to you, you’re more alert? What’s certain is that this type of danger is very different. It’s a type that doesn’t exist in our old world, they’re unnatural dangers. This is a self-created danger group.

Assessing risks

How we assess risks is evolutionary. It is precisely in an industrial environment that our ability to do so well falls short. In fact, our brain still lives in prehistoric times and reacts to modern dangers in the same way as it did to the direct, simple dangers of the old world. Our brain has two systems for processing information: the intuitive (our emotional brain) and the analytical (our intellect). For risk assessment, we rely on the first system: the alarm centre, the amygdala.

Nerve impulses travel much easier from the alarm centre to our intellect than the other way around. As a result, we tend to listen to our alarm centre even in more complex, abstract situations. And that judges primitive, not rational. It is very functional with an approaching tram, but it also reacts to alarming headlines, rumours or shocking television images. On the other hand, it does not respond to rational threats that it does not recognise as dangerous, such as being exposed to the dangers in Group 4, such as Chromium-VI or microscopic dust. 


Our naturally developed instincts and natural behaviours are not good to use when we are exposed to the dangers of the modern industrial environment. 

Every day a welder has to deal with various dangers from Group 1 and 3. We suppress our natural behaviours and instincts to work with these dangers. We try to assess risks. We use tools and PPEs to protect ourselves. We miss dangers and can even become overconfident when working for a long time with a certain danger. For the dangers in the 4th group, we do not experience any danger, nor can we imagine any consequences. Our natural behaviours and instincts cannot be used in these cases.

Through, sometimes painful, experience and accidents, we have built up a system of laws and regulations to control these dangers and protect people. An interesting follow-up question is whether this system leads to the desired safe behaviour.

* Cowen (2000), p 363; Lewin (2005), p 71. Note: For our search it is not very important whether this is correct or whether it might have been even longer ago (Daniel Richter et al, 2017) so we will continue with this.

** Rescue instinct: Think of the accident in a manure silo in Makking. Humans have an instinctive tendency to want to save other people. Especially when the danger is invisible! That’s why multiple people often die when originally only one person was in danger: (https://www.onderzoeksraad.nl/nl/page/3015/dodelijk-ongeval-in-mestsilo-te-makkinga in Dutch).

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