[ RadSafe ] RadSafe Digest, Vol 1301, Issue 2

THOMAS POTTER pottert at erols.com
Wed May 22 14:07:07 CDT 2013

I generally agree with the desirability of developing a questionable attitude, as discussed, but I see the problem as a little more complex. Radiation alarms are not just ignored because of the "cry wolf" phenomenon of too frequent false alarms. I n many cases,  even without frequent false alarms, all-too-human confirmation bias tends to make the alarm less believable. Everything's fine, the judgment goes, i t's got to be an instrument problem. 

The problem is not just a matter of being questioning, but what one is questioning about. The questioning attitude is in these cases is misdirected toward the alarming instrument rather than understanding of the radiological state. What is needed is not just a questionable attitude, but an attitude that resists confirmation bias.  This implies a certain asymmetry in response. When our instrumentation is telling us we are OK, we should be a little skeptical. When our instrumentation is telling us we are in trouble, we should trust it implicitly until we are sure we have protected ourselves. 

Thomas Potter   

----- Original Message -----

Date: Tue, 21 May 2013 10:25:27 -0400 
From: William Lipton <doctorbill34 at gmail.com> 
Subject: [ RadSafe ] NRC Blog Post on "Questioning Attitude" 
To: radsafe <radsafe at health.phys.iit.edu> 
        <CAJODVEFSKvUf2aFxPnUEcQ+aoKbnjM-zvJHU=fovLm96PLba=A at mail.gmail.com> 
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I commend the NRC for its recent blog posting on maintaining a questioning 
attitude, which is pasted, below.  I urge every radiation safety 
professional to keep this in mind. 

Bill Lipton 
It's not about dose, it's about trust. 

How a Questioning Attitude Encourages 
by Moderator <http://public-blog.nrc-gateway.gov/author/nrcmoderator3/> 
Maria E. SchwartzOffice of Enforcement Senior Project Manager 

[image: questionnew]Are we there yet? Why is the sky blue? Why is rain wet? 
Children have an endless list of questions as they discover the world 
around them. But as we grow older, most people tend to ask fewer questions. 

This may be due, at least in part, to the fact that we start to make 
assumptions about many of the things around us based on what we have 
already learned or observed. Sometimes we ask fewer questions because at 
some point, someone made us feel ashamed that we didn?t know the answer or 
made it clear they had more important things to do than respond to our 

Re-developing that questioning attitude we embraced as children, however, 
is very important to an organization?s health and critical to its safety 

The NRC?s Safety Culture Policy Statement 
?Questioning Attitude? as a trait of a positive safety culture. The policy 
statement describes it as a part of a culture where ?individuals avoid 
complacency and continuously challenge existing conditions and activities 
in order to identify discrepancies that might result in error or 
inappropriate action.? 

A questioning attitude helps to prevent ?group think? by encouraging 
diversity of thought and intellectual curiosity. It challenges the entire 
organization to get clarification when something comes up that doesn?t seem 

Examples include situations as simple as walking by a broken door day after 
day without stopping and questioning why it remains broken; or skipping 
over a confusing step in a procedure you use every day rather than getting 
clarification. It could include ignoring an alarm because nuisance alarms 
go off all the time and they never indicate an actual emergency. Or it 
could be something a little more complicated such as not speaking up to 
question a calculation that doesn?t seem right because the senior engineer 
performed the calculation. 

A positive safety culture requires the collective commitment by both 
leaders and individual employees to emphasize safety over competing goals. 
A questioning attitude supports that commitment. 


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End of RadSafe Digest, Vol 1301, Issue 2 

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