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Why You Shouldn't Rationalize Unsafe Behavior

April 26, 2017

roller-coaster.pngIn August of 2015, tragedy struck at Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. James A. Young, a special education teacher from East Canton, Ohio lost his phone and wallet while riding the roller coaster called the Raptor. While the coaster was still in operation, James was struck and killed attempting to retrieve his items after he jumped the fence surrounding a restricted area.

This event was as tragic as it was preventable, and all the more reason we need be aware of our SafetyDNA and those drivers that guide us to make snap decisions when under pressure or stress is applied.

With a quick look at the four-factor model it’s easy to see where things went wrong. In this instance, all four factors were in play.

Stays in Control:

As it would be for a lot of people, the stress of losing his wallet and phone caused James to lose control of the situation. Under normal circumstances there’s probably very little chance James would have made the decision to jump the fence and go into a restricted area. However, in this case he did. Why? My guess is James did not perceive the risk to be a large as it actually was. His control during the situation moved to the most basic level. He could probably see the items and thought; “They’re right there, this will only take me a second.” That decision proved fatal, and is why we always need to take a step back and thoroughly examine all the factors before acting.


In this situation, James probably felt he was being calculated and cautious, but without knowing the status of the coasters operation he could not properly assess the situation. You see this often in manufacturing environments. An individual sees a situation as safe because no one appears to be around, so they decide to engage with a piece of equipment in a way they normally wouldn’t. They skip lockout-tagout procedures only to find someone was indeed working in the area and they become injured or worse.

Stress has a tendency to cloud our judgment and make us view risk as far less severe than is the actually case.

Aware of Surroundings:

Coasters such as the Raptor have a hidden risk. Due to the inverted nature of the ride, the tracks of these type of coasters sit higher above the ground, giving those at ground level a false sense that the clearance is much higher than it is. If an individual is unaware of the design, they could easily calculate the clearance is much larger than it truly is.

Following Rules:

Where to begin? There were several rules that were not followed relating to this incident. The first of which is the warning issued to riders before boarding; you know, the one that warns riders that all personal belongings must be secured or left on the platform before entering the ride. The warning that 90% of us choose to ignore and simply put our things in our pockets and get on anyway. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that’s what I do.

Next is the restricted area, which was clearly posted with a warning to patrons not to enter the area. Many of us see these types of warnings as mere “guidelines.” While we know they apply to everyone, we rationalize to ourselves that they really don’t understand our specific situation. If they did, they’d understand this is clearly different and doesn’t apply to us at this moment in time.

Now I’m not saying that’s the line of thinking James Young had on that day in August. What I’m saying is I can clearly see myself rationalizing the situation and doing something that clearly broke the rules.

While it may seem like you would never make the decisions James did, without knowing your safety blind spots you can’t make that statement with absolute certainty. Having completed the SafetyDNA assessment, I know my personal safety blind spots, and I know those blind spots lie in the areas of Caution and Following Rules. So, while I believe I would have acted differently than James, my conclusion comes only from the awareness I have in my personal safety profile as outlined in my SafetyDNA report. Without that knowledge, I’m simply guessing on how I would have acted.

safety training and development

David Juristy David Juristy is Vice President of Sales, and the executive leader of PSI’s safety practice. He has used his background in Industrial Operations and military training in Quality & Safety compliance to work with many of today’s top companies to implement safety solutions.