There are a number of humorous emails that have done the rounds with people my age supposedly listing the reckless things my generation and our parents did. I believe there is even a tea-towel expressing the same sentiments available too. They claim, not always correctly of course, that our mothers smoked and drank during their pregnancies, we all rode our bicycles with faulty brakes at break-neck speeds without helmets, we played safely in the streets from dawn until dusk (not on Sundays though!), we rode in cars with no seat belts or air-bags, we shared a soft drink between four friends out of one bottle and nobody died from it, we had no child-proof lids on medicine bottles, etc. The import of all this being that, according to today’s obsession with health and safety, none of us should be alive!
As I said, not all of that is true and the authors of such passages often have somewhat dubious memories of their childhood or have understandably use hyperbole to make their point. I’m not really concerned about how much of it is false memory syndrome or exaggeration though, I believe it does make an important point: Twenty-first century society is, in my opinion, incredibly risk averse.
For example: My church holds a Christmas lunch in the church hall every year for the those who would otherwise be alone on Christmas Day. Such an event obviously requires a number of volunteers, one group being those prepared to give up their time to drive the attendees who can’t make their own way to and from the venue. With the introduction of a ‘Safeguarding Policy’ by the Church of England some years ago it was deemed necessary that we asked each volunteer to supply details of their driving licence and car insurance to ensure that we were not sanctioning the transportation of anyone by a disqualified driver or in an uninsured car. Needless to say some, particularly those who had volunteered for many years before, were extremely offended by the inference they took from such a measure (i.e. that we didn’t trust them!)
I should state here that I don’t know if this condition was actually stated in the church’s safeguarding policy or if it was down to the interpretation of the policy by those tasked to implement it. In a way I don’t really care. The Christmas lunch function had been held for many years without anyone feeling the need for a driving licence and insurance check so what had change?
I would suggest absolutely nothing had change. My view is that organisations or perhaps more correctly those bureaucrats who advise them, have become obsessed with extrapolating the circumstances surrounding things about which they know very little. They then seek to implement unrealistic and unnecessary control measures to prevent accidents or injuries occurring when the chances of those mishaps actually taking place are astronomical.
My other concern about safeguarding is this – Did we really ask to see those driving licences and insurance policies because we feared for the safety of the old aged pensioners being ferried to and from our church hall or did we just do it because policy said we should and we wanted to ‘tick all the boxes’ in case something did go wrong?
I believe one of the overriding factors here is the ‘blame culture’ and litigious society we now live in. Solicitors advertising on television inviting you to contact them if you’ve had an accident at work hardly helps. Are we all now so concerned about health and safety that we want to metaphorically wrap everyone in cotton wool or is it that many of us live in fear of being sued by an accident victim and have therefore ‘lost our nerve’ when it comes to taking risks?
It’s not just employers though is it? Parents now seem unbelievably more worried about children’s safety than they ever did when I was a child and I’m sure that isn’t my memory playing tricks on me. On average only 11 children a year are abducted by strangers and this figure has not risen since 1970 (source http://www.netmums.com). There are over 11 million children in the UK so, just for once, the phrase ‘the chances are one in a million’ is pretty accurate. Some child experts have suggested that children today have been robbed of their independence and self-confidence, and in turn have failed to develop a hugely important life skill: that of being able to assess risk.
Here’s a thought – Have some of those children now grown up and got jobs as health and safety advisers?