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Steven Vantassel I want to talk to you little about understanding risk. How do we talk about risk. How do you explain the chances of something going wrong to your clients who are afraid of what you’re going to be doing. I think this is one of the most difficult concepts. For pest control operators or wildlife control operators to discuss with their clients because the fact is we tend to exalt. The chances of something going wrong when we’re dealing with something we’re not familiar with. Take for example driving why does it that people think that driving is safer. Than flying. Even though we’ve all heard the statistics on since driving is infinitely more dangerous than flying. But people would rather drive than fly. Why is that. Well part of that is because. People are more familiar. With driving. Than they are with flying and so therefore there’s a sense of a loss of control. You have to trust the pilots up in the front of that plane. And when you don’t understand something you tend to exaggerate. And exalt the risk. But I also think there’s another element to it and that is people intuitively understand that when something goes wrong with a plane. The results tend to be rather catastrophic. You can have a lot of fender benders and cars and no one’s getting killed. But with a plane when something goes wrong it can go really wrong.
We have to understand risk as the potential
For how serious the effects are going to be even if those risks are are my Newt or extraordinarily rare people tend to take less risk when the consequences are severe. So there’s a psychological component. Let me back up a little bit and let’s talk about risk. Many of you have probably had risk explained to you as. Rich as a formula. Sort of like risk equals. The toxicity times exposure. And that was your understanding of risk and that’s really a good. Thumbnail way of understanding. What risk is in terms of explaining to your client that is clearly if you’re using. You know an herbicide. That’s going to pose possibly less toxic ingredients to a human that PSA. Then let’s say using a rodent aside or a fume again that may be killing rodents. And then you’d have to just calculate. What level of exposure is this person going to have. So we could obviously reduce the risk by making sure the client’s not home. The item is dry before the client comes back. The reentry interval and that sort of thing.
But there’s more to risk than simply that because giving some of those concepts of risk no toxicity. Does your client really understand. Toxicity. Mean look at all the stuff that’s on the internet now that we’re poisoning ourselves. You know people are looking at well they found one billionth. Of a of a percentage of ingredients in something and therefore it’s contaminated make because the public doesn’t understand that there’s a difference between
Presence of something and the significance of that presence. We have chemicals that were exposed to all over the place. The question is not just whether they’re there but is there. An actual effect or harm that we can measure. And the reality is a lot of these things is yeah we could find it we have testing equipment today they can find things down to the billionth. Part
Which is an extremely small amount could. The question is all right just because we found it. Is it significant. Well that’s like asking Is the gravity that that is exerted against you by the apple in your hand. Is that significant. Right. I mean so where do we go or do we end with this. Right. So clearly it’s hard to explain in some of these concepts. Let’s read it let’s reiterate what that original risk formula was. Risk equals. Toxicity times exposure and so toxicity is one of those consequences such as morbidity and morbidity is how will it injure someone or something. Mortality is what is the likelihood of it killing somebody. So that would be the toxicity or the severity of that particular pesticide. Exposure refers to. How often is the person being exposed. Frequency. How long. Is that exposure going to occur. Is it going to be 2 seconds or 20 hours or 20 years. And then to what extent is that exposure. In other words is it just part of their body. Is it all of their body. Is it. Are they inhaling it or is it absorbed through the skin. Are they eating it. So what kind of exposure what’s the extent of the exposure.
She can see how when we talk about risk. It’s a complicated concept and I’m going to make it a little bit more complicated for you here and that is I think we need to add a third component. Probability. What is the likelihood of a negative event occurring. So let’s revisit that formula again. Now the original formula I gave you is risk equals toxicity or the severity of a pesticide. Times the exposure. But what if we add a third element namely what is the probability of that exposure. In other words we can fumigate a building was saved a lot of fast fire. If you’re in this place for his dry wood termites or something in your fumigating with a limit of fast fire or methyl bromide or something like those guys I’m not an expert on bugs but there are various few bigots out there. And you know if someone walks into that building that’s being fumigated they’re going to die. So it’s a highly toxic fume again. But if we ventilate that building. And do the proper measurements to ensure that it’s properly aerated your car could walk back in. So what’s the probability that something bad is going to happen to your client.
Well it’s basically zero. So even though the toxicity of this particular product is extraordinarily high this again. And the exposure level may be very low in the sense you don’t have to be exposed very long fume against tend to kill rather quickly. All that’s irrelevant if you can remove the probability make the probability is zero. So how severe how severely toxic something is is irrelevant if you can eliminate the probability that this person is going to be exposed. Now let’s take this a little bit less abstract and bring it down to your dog for instance I get four questions in my line of work and people ask me Will this hurt my dog. And my answer is yeah it’ll kill your dog. And then they get scared and I say well you know you can tie your dog up. Tying your dog up if your dog can’t get to the poison. Your dog is gonna be fine. So we can eliminate. Some of the risks to our pesticide use simply by eliminating the likelihood or reducing the likelihood of exposure to zero. And so we need to be sure and we talk to clients that yeah. Just telling them about the severity of the particular product the exposure of their product. We also have to think about what’s the probability of something going wrong because it’s all about choice. What is the goods. What what benefits does this pesticide provide and what are the risks that the pesticide provides. How do we minimize those risks of the negative elements of that pesticide without giving up the benefits of those pesticides.
And this is where it can be very difficult because we’re developing a culture. In our society that says all pesticides are bad. We’re kids people are not quite understanding the chemistry the biology and the risk of these particular products and the benefits that they provide and how we minimize the risk by things like simple follow the label. So that’s my understand that’s how I talk about risk in terms of a part one addition part one. But you know there’s more to talk about risk in terms of the psychology and the components of risk that we need to be sure that we understand so that we can try to help our clients be informed consumers and not just simply those who panic because they heard the boogey man word of pesticide. So how do we do that. Let’s go to what I would call understanding risk. Part 2. And this isn’t necessarily going to help you explain it to your client but it is going to help you understand where the fear is coming from. With your client. And that is the notion and I want to give you a new word the notion of in determinism. Now that’s a fancy word that basically means this. We don’t know what the future holds. As much as we can try to minimize and try to control the future. We really don’t know what the future holds. For example you could be exercising and being fit and in shape and running marathons or whatever you think meet make someone a healthy person.
But that still doesn’t mean you’re not going to get hit by a bus. Or there are a lot of healthy people have died of heart attacks. Why. Because they were genetically predisposed. There was nothing they were gonna do that was going to say basically help them dodge that bullet. I’m not encouraging you to say well everything just a matter of the Fates and do whatever you want and become. You know fatalist sadness. No but the point is is that there is a limit to what we can do. There’s a lot of things in our life we simply cannot control. So when we talk about in determinism in other words we don’t know the future we have to see this as basically two elements. There’s two elements to indeterminate. We’ve already talked about one element and that’s the nature of chance. That’s where I discussed in understanding risk. Part one that risk equals probability times severity times exposure or probability times toxicity times exposure. That’s the chance side of in determinism. But we also have what we call the epistemic side of in determinism. Now epistemic again I’m using some big words here. But when we kind of break this out for you at the epistemic side of risk is talking about how we don’t know what we don’t know. Let me give you an illustration. I was doing some fieldwork here in Montana and we were.
Out in the field doing doing a study and lo and behold while I was out in the field I was doing some other work and I’m looking at all the sudden I see a dog running through our field. And the closest house was at least a quarter of a mile maybe even a half mile away. From our location. It never even dawned on me to be thinking about having a dog running through my test site. So there was something I didn’t even know that was a potential risk for the site that we had chose. So there’s an example of where you’re using if you’re using the pesticide in someone’s house and you think you have tried to minimize the risk to those homeowners and the homeowners say oh yeah we’re no one’s gonna be here we’re going to be fine and all of a sudden they’re college kid. Comes home early from college and has a key to the house and walks in. That’s an epistemic risk because the parents didn’t know that the child was going to come home nor that you know that the child was going to come home. So that’s something that you didn’t even know that you should know it. That. Aspect of what we don’t know what we don’t know that aspect is really at I believe at the root of a lot of fear. Governing pesticide use is that people don’t trust. The research the scientists about what we do know about pesticides.
And so therefore they hear these stories on the Internet and they say well you you say that this is. No we’re not calling any pesticides safe but you’re saying that this is an appropriate use and we minimize these risks and the risks are very manageable. But they don’t trust you. And they’d be not because they trust don’t trust you as a person that they think you’re lying. That’s not what they’re thinking but they don’t trust the science in the research behind it because they don’t think that the scientists have done research over a long enough period of time. They always think that their situation is special they may say well I know someone down the road who had that same pesticide sprayed and all of a sudden that house had a cluster of cancer kids may have been nothing involved not even remotely related to that particular pesticide. But it doesn’t matter to their to their minds they think the connection is there because in the public correlation means causation so let’s recap this a little bit.
We’ve talked about understanding risk. Part 1. Which was that risk is probability times toxicity times exposure. That’s the chance side of in determinism. Understanding risk part 1. But then I talked about that the second part of risk that in determinism that we don’t know the future is the epistemic side that we don’t know what we don’t know. Let me give you another aspect of this epistemic side. How often have you told clients You say you know we’re going to try this. But I want you to know that if we do this this negative element may happen
Now may not be that serious let’s say a pesticide that you’re using could call cause let’s say skin irritation let’s say it’s minor skewered skin irritation I’m just I don’t have something any particular pesticide mind I’m just trying to throw out an example that’s kind of neutral. OK so whatever the pesticide is to say pesticide X Y Z. That. When you use it a certain percentage of residents at a house that you’re using will will suffer some some moderate skin irritation. Maybe they get a small rash or something. I don’t know but just say a small rash something innocuous it’s going to hurt them over the long term it goes away but it’s irritating in the short term you may tell your client this and say you know. The research shows there’s a 5 percent chance
That you could get this rash and the customer says I don’t care I don’t care. I did these bugs God or whatever it is. And they sign the document and then they then you go
Go away and you apply the product and all of a sudden a few days later getting a phone call and they’re screaming at you on the phone saying why do I have this rash and you explain to them. You said well there’s a small that we told you that was a small risk that you could get this rash. Don’t worry it’ll go away in about seven days and you know it this is completely normal and everything’s fine. But they’re screaming at you and they’re threatening to sue. Now what happened there. Now there is an example of where. We knew that it was a possibility that it could happen. But you see your client didn’t adequately. They thought they were going to be the exception. They thought they were going to be part of that 95 percent and so therefore they were angry that they were part of the 5 percent that’s that part of your epistemic risk that even when you inform your client it doesn’t mean your client that you know how your client’s going to react if something goes wrong.
Doctors have the same challenge that they have. They want if you ever have surgery you sign your life away and those surgeries you’re telling them you may die on the operating table the anesthesia could kill you. It’s scary stuff when you read those things. I’ve I’ve had several surgeries. If you if you read the details you’re like oh my gosh when my signing here it’s scary stuff. So I’m an informed patient. But I still go through the surgery wise I think I’m going to beat the odds. All right. Your client is going to be the same way because they suppress that negative information that they have. Now this doesn’t help us help our client right. I mean in the sense that we don’t. How do we help our client get a better understanding of risk. My point here is I want you to at least emotionally and mentally try to understand risk. From your client’s point of view so that when you encounter this problem you’re not blown away by it.
I wish I had a you know an ABC method to solve it but I don’t I think this is one of the most difficult parts of being in the wildlife control business or the pest control business because how do we explain the unknown to clients they’re under stress already they’re angry they’re upset about having this pest problem they have to spend money on this thing and they’re talking to you and it’s interfering with their life. So they’re already angry and many situations are upset. And now you’re telling them about the potential negatives and then their mind gets going. How do we deal with this. It’s if this is the part of the business where you become what I call a therapist where you’re not just simply a bug killer or an animal killer you are a therapist helping your client walk through. This unknown the scary element you have to create an atmosphere
Of informed consent where you help them not take counsel of irrational fears I wish I had a better way of doing it but you need to understand that part of their fear is that epistemic risk. We don’t know what we don’t know. And the second part of that epistemic risk is how do we know. Will the client react. The way they say they’re going to act. Because you’ve probably had clients say oh I don’t care about that that’s fine I don’t care if that spray discoloured the surface of that object and then all of a sudden it’s discolored and they’re screaming at you how did why did the patient what patient why did the client change their mind on that. That’s your epistemic risk. How will. Just because the client says they’re going to act in a certain way doesn’t mean the client will actually act that way when that event occurs. So I hope you get a sense of just how complicated. This concept of risk actually is. And so how do we. Help people talk about it. And this is something I have a third aspect to risk but I’m not going to. Get into that on this particular podcast. I think I’ve already hit you with a lot.
So. How do we give some strategies to you to help you walk your client through this tightrope. Of of risk reward so that they don’t lose jobs but that you’re not also diminishing the real risks that are there because you don’t want to do that either here’s some things that have helped me. Or at least I think they have. When I’ve talked to people on the phone or I’ve talked to them about the nature of risk. I try to give them a little bit of background information about the pesticide. That they’re that they’re thinking about using or that’s going to be used. To give them a sense of understanding because knowledge gives the more people can sometimes understand about something you know within limits. It gives them a greater sense of control. So that they have an awareness. Of what this pesticide can do and what this pesticide could not do. The other thing you want to do is try to compare the risk that they may encounter. By risk. I mean the negative all the negative things that could happen to things that they that are really risky for them. That they’ve downplayed. Sometimes I’ve had to tell people I would say you know
There is more risk to you right now from your neighbor’s dog than what I’m doing here.
Now they don’t believe me a lot of times so they won’t believe me. Or maybe your clients won’t believe you. Because they think they know their dog. I mean I’ve had people say ask me Well how do you do you know this is going to happen. I will say well the answer is no and then I’ll look Adama. So how do you know. Your neighbors not going to rob you tomorrow. And they’ll look at me in those and they’ll think about it and they’re like well yeah they don’t know whether their neighbor is going to rob them tomorrow. I said you probably your neighbor probably won’t rob you tomorrow because you probably know your neighbor. But how do you know for sure. So what you can what you’re doing is you’re giving them an understanding that our knowledge is always in part. We often don’t have 100 percent knowledge. But you’re also telling them that look they live. They do all kinds of things in their life that they don’t have 100 percent knowledge of. And they have no fear whatsoever. And so what you have to do sometimes is you have to give them a little bit of fear about something else that they think they know a lot about. To help compensate for the excessive fear about something that you know a lot about.
Now I wish there was a slam dunk to help your client have an informed consent because you have to balance the need to give. Make sure your client’s informed but also get the job done because hey time is money right. I mean so this is a rather abstract conversation I’m having today but it’s something that I think that’s important to just simply chew on from time to time and think how can I help my clients. Overcome some of these fears. This may be you may want to have literature that you hand your client maybe you’re going to give them the SDF sheet maybe you’re going to give them a little company brochure. Maybe you’re going to give them the label of the product that you’re using. Maybe you’re going to look up some research on this particular product. To help your client overcome some of these fears or maybe you’re going to say OK client we’re going to give you some options. Maybe there’s pesticide one that you like and maybe there’s pesticide too that would be safer. But maybe not quite as effective. And you could explain those differences let the client make own some of that risk and own some of those choices sometimes letting the client make a decision helps them overcome. Some of that fear by helping them feel a little bit more. That they’re still in control of a situation that they wish they did. They were intrigued with. Well again I’ve covered some rather abstract concepts but let me kind of recap it all again for you in terms of understanding and explaining risk and I said. Risk can be understood at a very basic level as
Risk equals the probability times toxicity times exposure. But then I said you know that’s not enough. There’s more to risk than just simply understanding the. The chance side of risk. There’s also the epistemic side that is we really don’t know what we don’t know. Nor do we often know how we really are going to respond when a theoretical becomes actual. When you warn the client about that spray may leave. A film on the furniture and then they see it for real then they’re angry. Even though they were completely informed. So understanding those two awareness of those two elements of risk the unknown. And the probability side of risk. Hopefully will help you tease out some of the concerns. That your client may not even be able to conceptualize because all they see is fear a fear that something more is going to go wrong than it’s already gone wrong which is why they called you in the first place. I hope that helps at least you can help you conceptualize where some of this is occurring so that you can help your clients navigate that risk reward challenge.