The risky business of living

26 Apr

Last week I was on the bus. As passengers were walking to the end of the bus to take their seats, a woman stumbled and threw herself into the lap of an elderly man. He helped her up, got her on her way and said, “No problem” probably in response to her lack of communication to him. Hearing that, she turned round and snorted, “It’s not like it was my fault!”

Sunday night, I was in a bar celebrating my brother’s birthday. People were dancing, flinging arms, gesticulating wildly to be understood over the music. I was one of those people and while I waved at someone over the other side of the bar, my elbow went into the beer bottle my boyfriend was drinking and it smacked him in the teeth. His front tooth was ever-so-slightly chipped. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I shouted over the racket. “Don’t worry, he said. You didn’t mean it.”

On the way home, and still apologising profusely, I thought about that woman on the bus. It had annoyed me that she had immediately shirked all responsibility for her lack of balance and I silently vowed not to be like her. I know her lessened coordination on the moving bus wasn’t exactly her fault, but her attitude about it, quite honestly, stank.

Accidents happen. That is a fact of life and something which we all have to live with. From the moment we turn on the kettle in the morning, to the challenging commute on bicycles or public transport; from a distracted moment at work reaching for something, to taking care of our home: painting, cleaning, mowing the lawn. We have all, no doubt, had a minor accident and learnt something from it.

Managing risks is something different, and something which takes a little time, effort and thought. Risks are more than what you can see: the ladder balanced precariously; the puddle of tea; the wires haphazardly crossing the office. The way we sit; not using a cycle helmet; what we eat; the breaks we give ourselves during our working day: these are all potential risks to our health, safety and wellbeing and should be managed so. And these examples are ones which we can take responsibility for.

Taking responsibility for our own health and safety is something which should be taught and practised. The British Safety Council does this by giving school children and young workers the chance to get free, accredited health and safety qualifications. It gives them a start, so that their workplace is that little bit safer for them and they are more aware.

Teaching children to be risk averse and fear everything from conkers to footballs is nonsense and counterproductive. In a society which readily blames the ‘compensation culture’ and hungry lawyers for its over-the-top reactions to health and safety rules, we have to take responsibility for the risks. A spokesman for the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers said recently: “Accidents are a fact of life, and it is not possible to make a claim for such a mishap. But negligence is avoidable and can shatter lives. People need protection from needless injury. Health and safety laws are in place to protect vulnerable people.”

This is the point. Taking risks neither too extreme on the cautious side or the reckless side leaves plenty of middle ground for proportional health and safety: from looking after yourself and playing an active role in your organisation’s health and safety, to seeking advice and professional help when you are unsure or in a new situation.

Someone once said that safety does not happen by accident. That is true. Accidents do happen that way. But shoulder some of the health and safety, thinking about what could go wrong. It’s about not shirking your chance to be healthy and safe.

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