Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Ergonomics and the precautionary principle

From Euractive via CCNet

A David Zaruk is pointing to the cost of the precautionary principle e.g. in REACH and environmental matters. "Before, scientists could develop an innovation and market it, after it was up to others to prove and test that it is dangerous. Now, you need to prove something is safe before it can be marketed."

"Precaution was created as a tool for policy, by those who think science has gone too far," Zaruk argued.

"Precautionary logic entails that not being right is not the same as being wrong. In other words, if you use the precautionary principle, you are never wrong," he continued, stressing that "for policymakers, it is much more attractive to never be wrong than to take the risk and be right."

"We need a little bit of political courage. Precaution is a policy tool for cowards, because if you are never wrong, you don't have to take risks or be responsible for any indirect negative consequences." But while it is easy to hide behind precaution when making difficult decisions, "you affect people when you stop research" by denying them potential future benefits of nanotech research, for example, he said.

Given the uncertainties around human variability and adaptability, it is easy for ergonomics to fall into an illusory 'better safe than sorry' approach e.g. pursuing safety control at the expense of using people to make safety. This is likely to become more of a concern unless the anti-science anti-risk culture changes.

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