Workshop: Better risk communication about fires involving hazardous materials. Risk perception and the mental models approach.

One of the workshops at our CIP Conference 2016 on 1 July 2016 at Antwerp Management School.

In January 2011, a major fire erupted at a chemical storage and packing company in The Netherlands. In the aftermath, the risk communication to the public was heavily criticised. In the present study, we employed a mental models approach to improve risk communication in case of a fire involving hazardous materials.

This approach integrates descriptive assessment and comparison of the science that is relevant for lay risk decisions with lay knowledge and beliefs of the underlying hazardous processes. Key discrepancies between these two perspectives are candidate focal points for improving communication materials.

First, we constructed an expert model based on the scientific literature and interviews with experts. Next, non-expert members of the general public were interviewed to assess key aspects of the lay mental model. To quantify these aspects in the general population, a confirmatory online survey was developed and conducted. Additionally, risk messages were compared in the online panel.

Based on our findings we recommend to include a clarification of cancer risk, of the exposure to hazardous materials, and of the limitations of risk measurements in risk communications during the acute phase of a fire.


Dr. Frans Greven is toxicologist ERT at public health services, Groningen (The Netherlands)
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