Misconceptions concerning safety

These are the slip and fall Accident Stats. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over one million Americans suffer a slip, trip, and fall injury and over 17, 000 people die in the U.S. annually because of these injuries. It is common knowledge to know that quite some of these happen by banana peels. That is why they are also portrayed in movies and cartoons. Only, this is not true in reality. Only one person has died due to slipping on a banana peel.

It is much more common to slip in the bathroom and fall of a ladder. Another great example is the shark and the mosquito. Common sense finds sharks more terrifying. Mosquitos are seen mostly as irritating. Yet, there are lots of famous movies such as Jaws about how  dangerous they are and almost none about mosquitos. 64 unprovoked shark attacks were reported around the globe.

It might seem impossible that something so miniscule can kill so many people, but it’s true. According to the World Health Organization, mosquito bites result in the deaths of more than 1 million people. Statistically speaking, people are more than 15,000 times likely to die of a mosquito bite than to be ‘just’ attacked by a shark. By giving not enough attention to mosquitos and too much to sharks for example, really dangerous situations can occur. Often the question seems to be  what has the most priority? This is easier said than done. Many mistakes have been made because of wrongfully answering that question, even by big groups of mathematicians. This event happened in the height of the second world war. Planes that flew over the enemy’s soil were shot. The planes that came were studied and had more bullet holes per square meter in the the fuel system and wings than the engines and fuselages. There was a problem a big group of mathematicians needed to solve. A plane can only have so much armor before it becomes too heavy. It was a challenge to figure out where the optimum was. The part that the engines had less bullet holes did not make sense. This was a problem that took surprisingly long for them to find an answer too. A mathematician named Abraham Wald solved this problem by arguing that planes  that did have lots of bullet holes simply were not able to fly back. He did this by asking himself ‘what assumptions do I make?’ Often this is just extra work, but sometimes it makes a huge difference.

Low concentrations of just 15 parts per million could be a hazard to health. It likewise makes a big difference in the end, necessary for a reasonably safe product. 

Something else to take in mind is to not overestimate problems, as unnecessary resources are wasted. How natural and obvious it may feel like, reality is sometimes different. The best way to get a grasp of reality is with statistics. Note that statistics can also be misleading due to approximation, use of a smaller piece of data and overall reliability. With some basic research it is possible to get very far.

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