Zero Risk

This is a phrase that is frequently used by people opposed to mobile phone masts, substations and overhead lines and usually in connection with their children's health.

Is it practicable, reasonable or possible to have zero risk?  Take mobile phones for example.  Many parents who have become alarmed about mobile phone masts take the stance that you don't need to have mobile phones.  It is a technology that we can do without.  Therefore, by not having mobile phones we can have zero risk.  Wrong.

The same parents would ask or demand that you should use your mobile phone to call for an ambulance say if their children were injured.  Under these circumstances there is a risk involved by not having a mobile phone.  How many women drivers with mobile phones now feel safer when they are on their own in their cars?

There are risks involved in having something and risks involved with not having something.  The risks are never zero.  For decades the risks associated with electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) have been researched to try and quantify them.  It is proving to be impossible.  It is far easier to quantify the risks associated with chemicals than it is for EMFs.

There was a Swedish report that claimed to find an increased Leukaemia risk to children living near high voltage overhead lines.  This caused some concern to parents who took their children to kindergartens near to overhead lines.  Researchers had to quickly point out that to transport children by car to another kindergarten was far more risky than leaving them where they were.

Why do we get into this situation?  It is because we do not qualify risk in everything we do.  We are used to doing certain things that are very risky, but experience has taught us that it is ok.  Ok until we have an accident.  Of course anything that is new can be looked upon with some suspicion because we do not have any personal experience that can be relied upon to make the risk assessment.  Combine this with someone telling you that it is dangerous and it becomes a forgone conclusion that is hard to change.  This is the tactic of the Eco warrior.  They alarm you with stories that you can not verify for yourself.  You are left to make a black or white decision.  You either accept what they say or you don't.  There is no comfortable middle ground.

So what is risk?  Risk can be defined as the gravity of the outcome of an event, times, the probability that it will occur.

Many people travel by car.  The worst outcome is that we have an accident and are killed.  However, we each believe this is unlikely to happen, therefore the perceived risk is low, even though we could die.  This is what risk is to each of us.  It is not just how bad things may be, but how likely they are to happen.  We are more suspicious of things we have no experience of, and readily ignore the real dangers that we are accustomed to.  There is another factor that we take into account.  That is the benefits that we have from ignoring the risks.  Perhaps we do not totally ignore the risks but believe we are managing the risks.

Example, mountain climbers take the risks of injury or even death seriously.  They make each movement carefully yet they would not consider abandoning their sport.  Sadly some are killed but they are replaced by more willing sportspeople.  More mundanely, smokers choose to continue to smoke, even though the risk of cancer is high, the cost is high, the consequence is high.  Where is the benefit, where is the risk management procedures?  This is an example of people ignoring every day risks to the point of believing they are taking no risks.  These same people will be amongst those demanding zero risk strategies.

What are the risks?  IF you take the most pessimistic figures out of the most pessimistic research results then the new technologies appear safer than the everyday risks that we are all happy to ignore.


© 2005 Electromagnetic Surveys Limited