Facility Safety Management

Weekly E-Newsletter

June 5, 2007

Fruit Flies Do It, Too:  Exercise Free Will, Wear Your PPE

By  Michael D. Shaw

The classic excuse that employees give for not using personal protective equipment (PPE) is force of habit. After all, they argue, I’ve been doing this task for 15 years the old way, and I just can’t change my behavior.

As such, they are describing themselves as robots, with no free will to effect the change.

The trouble with this argument is that now we find that even the lowly fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) seems to have free will.

Björn Brembs, of the Free University of Berlin, and his colleagues tethered fruit flies, and put them in an environment designed to give the insects no visual clues at all. (It consisted of nothing but a uniform white backdrop.) Since they were fixed in space, their turning attempts should have resembled random noise—but they did not.

The researchers then subjected the data to a variety of computer models, but were unable to explain the behavior of the flies until they checked it against methods developed by a group from the Scripps Institute in San Diego. The inescapable conclusion is that there must be an evolved function in the fly brain, which leads to spontaneous variations in fly behavior.

Put another way—The flies are exercising free will.

Assuming that those in your charge have at least the intellect of a fruit fly, they should be more than capable of making the change to proper use of PPE.