Musings on Safety…?

We all want our food to be safe to eat, the vehicles we drive to be mechanically and technically sound, the medicines we take not to be unduly hazardous to our health… and so forth.  But the problem we face is that as society becomes more technological and complex, the less an individual can do to assure that safety, and the abuses of business in the nineteenth and twentieth century have proved rather conclusively that businesses and corporations can’t be trusted to ensure the safety of their products and services, at least not without federal regulations and oversight [and, alas, sometimes not even then].

But beyond what one might call the “understandable” realm of government rules comes yet another level of safety… and that is the regulatory acts and structures we support and pay for as a result of the actions of crazies. To maintain safety from these crazies in a civilized society, we pay a huge premium, and one that shouldn’t, at least in an ideal world, be so necessary.  And, yes, I’m among the first to admit we do not live in anything close to an ideal world.

There are the crazies of greed, the scam artists, the ones who try to con money and assets from the gullible and the trusting, and those not intelligent enough to realize they’re being swindled. Another variety of the crazies of greed are the businesses who offshore the production of goods to places where there are no regulations, or very lax ones, on pollution, working conditions, and hazardous chemicals, and while, technically speaking, this practice may “save” us dollars in the cost of goods, it increases the costs and damages on the planet far more than what it “saves” us in lower prices.

Once I believed that it was the product-tampering crazies, those nuts who have injected toxins, poisons, and other harmful substances into foods, medicines, and the like, and who created a billion dollar industry of additional packaging that was totally unnecessary in a sane world… but then I realized that child-proof packaging is also necessary in a world where everything is presented as attractive.  Who would ever have thought that detergent pods would resemble candy?  But then, maybe that’s another facet of excessive corporate greed.

Of course, the emphasis on safety is selective.  We still allow sixteen year-olds possession and use of a two thousand pound plus potentially lethal weapon – the automobile – although we do require that the vehicle and operator be licensed and registered, unlike guns, where registration and licensing, in the USA, at least, are violently opposed

But I do find it interesting that the instance of thirty-some poisonings from tampered Tylenol more than twenty-five years ago spurred the eventual requirements of tamper-proof packaging on everything, and there’s not even a requirement for a gun owner to be licensed, when there are over 13,000 gun-related deaths annually in the USA.


11 thoughts on “Musings on Safety…?”

  1. JakeB says:

    I think I see a typo in “green” at the end of the 4th paragraph.

    I also recall Ecktor’s observation to the cyb that once the safety costs for operation of machinery exceeds about 5% of the total costs, there’s probably a design flaw.

    1. “Green” changed to “greed.”

  2. Therman says:

    This blog seems to use to safety issues to make a point about gun control and specifically gun registration (you said licensing but it would amount to the same thing). You make the point that we require licensing for vehicles but not guns and go on to say that there are over 13,000 gun related deaths annually, implying that these deaths are equivalent to the deaths by vehicular accidents. What you don’t point out is that the vast majority of gun related deaths are due to suicide, criminal acts, war/law enforcement, or self-defense where licensing would not have a significant effect. There were 606 accidental fatalities that were gun related in 2010. I agree that this is too many and that gun education should be strongly encouraged and that there be criminal liabity where negligence is involved. However, when you look at other categories of accidental deaths: vehicular – 37,236; poisoning – 33,041; falling – 26,009; drowning – 3,782; suffocation – 6,165, ect., accidental gun related deaths are at the bottom of the list. If you genuinely want to reduce accidental deaths, we shouldn’t be focusing on guns. Now, if you were trying to make a case for controlling access to those who have, by prior behavior, shown themselves unfit to purchase a gun, we are almost certainly in agreement.

  3. Therman says:

    Actually, one of my statements is not accurate. Strong registration/licensing would have a significant impact but would also result in numerous unintended consequences. What I meant was in the case of accidental deaths.

  4. Alan says:

    Jumping on the gun band-wagon, as I’ve done in the past, I like to note that there were ~10,000 stabbing deaths last year in the US. That’s only a few thousand less than your number of shooting deaths. Shall we demand that all knife owners be registered and proper knife training be demanded?

    Silly sounding, I know. But by the logic of those demanding stringent gun controls, registries, etc, it’s a reasonable concept. At what point do you draw the line?

    I recently sat through safety training for OSHA courses. Now I believe that safety is an important part of any industry in the country. Especially ones which have inherent dangers which can be avoided through reasonable precautions. But there are so many foolish steps…

    For instance, if you are working four feet off the ground, you are required to wear fall protection. For most workers this consists of a full body harness, a six foot lanyard and a three and a half foot shock absorbing section. So when you fall from four, or more, feet up, you end up dangling at the end off a nine and a half foot lanyard. Or in short, the cord simply leads anyone who comes along to where you are.

    Most people would evaluate this as foolish. The lanyard system provides no valuable protection, yet it is the requirement. Now you can, of course, use a shorter lanyard. But most workers don’t.

    Hard hats are similarly treated. If you are the sole worker on a job site, in a man lift forty feet up, there is absolutely no danger of something falling on you. A strong gust of wind, however, may make your hard hat a falling hazard for those below you! The hard hat is great to save you from minor small objects, however is something more than a few pounds falls from any real height, all the hard hat will do is give a convenient way to identify your face after you’ve died from the impact. This results in many workers sneering at hard hat safety requirements. Such as MSA/ANSI requirements (found on the inside of the hard hat) that ‘the hard hat be replaced after ANY impact’.

    The workers, and many companies, make a nod at safety to pass inspections, avoid penalties and fines by inspectors, and get on with their jobs. Is this right? No, obviously not. Yet it happens daily. And those are just companies and personnel who give safety the nod. Many more don’t even make that effort. (Don’t believe it? Take a look at the next job site you drive by with scaffolding or workers more than four feet off the ground. See how many safety lines, kick boards, etc are in use.)

    How do you determine what is safe for individuals, and society at large? I know that some would say that living with in the United States, or which ever country, is a tacit agreement to abide by the directives of that country. Be they voted on rules and regulations or ones handed down from on high. Clearly, in the US, the over concerned citizen has encouraged his elected officials to make political hay out of regulating and controlling most aspects of their lives. To impose restrictions and controls to make them ‘safe’.

    Where does a controlling society take over from a reasonable one? After all, it’s all for your own good…. Right?

    Just food for thought….

    1. Kathryn says:

      With regards to knives:
      Well, to be frank, a knife is a household object with many legitimate and useful purposes. You can use them to open letters, to repair, to create, in the preparation and consumption of food, etc., etc.

      A gun has only one legitimate purpose – to kill (well, at the very least, to injure). Whether you’re hunting, using it for protection, etc. A gun is there for one thing and one thing only. You can use them for other things, I’m sure, but that is not and will never be their intended purpose.

      That’s why, in my opinion, there’s a false equivalence. I think that applies to some other aspects of your post, such as the point about hard hats. The hard hat isn’t designed to protect you if you fall from heights. It’s there to protect your head from things falling down on your head. If you’re on a work site, you wear one out of a sense of being prepared for (most) eventualities.

      I won’t deny that some safety regulations are bizarre. I mean where I work, we’re “supposed” to stand two metres away from the van’s tail lift if we’re not operating it (i.e. if we’re waiting for the driver to unload). Two. Metres. That’s ridiculous. I wear steel toe capped boots to work, even though in most cases they over-protect me from any real potential hazards. But I’m grateful they’re there in the few circumstances where they do offer the protection I need. It’s like the training video we watch that teaches you how to lift properly. It’s inefficient, it’s time-consuming, it’s frankly ridiculous, and is overly careful for the weights we have to lift in the vast majority of circumstances. But if we injure our backs lifting, it becomes our responsibility as we’ve been trained (but we’re never retrained, so go figure).

      But it’s better, in my opinion, to be able to recognise where the hazards are yourself, and to evaluate the risks. It’s not about what other people do. It’s about what you do. You look after your own safety above all else.

  5. Therman says:

    Kathryn, Good post and though I don’t fully agree with you on the knife/gun comparison I do agree on the PPE issues. You wear PPE based on threats that are present on the worksite, not based on your specific function/location on the worksite. Regarding Alan’s statement on the hardhat issue, I think you misread. The point he was making is that if a person were working on a cherry picker where there was no hazard of falling objects, rather than protect the worker, the hardhat itself could become a falling hazard to others on the ground. Of course, having worked as a lineman I can tell you that it is a good idea to have the hardhat on anyway even when you are using a lift or not at risk of falling objects. Now, working as a Safety and Health Officer, I can also tell you that many of the safety requirements are way overboard to the point that the costs far outweigh the benefits. Alan’s point on the lanyard is a very mild example of this. Considering some of the rules I have to enforce, it’s amazing anything gets done sometime.

    1. Kathryn says:

      With the knife/gun thing – I think I may know why. I overlooked the “hazard potential” for knives. Yeah, you get some made, basically, for killing. There are some pretty nasty knives out there. But even combat knives are utility pieces, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some army training actually included utility uses for the knife. But as I see it, using a knife as a weapon is little different to many other objects with hazardous applications.

      It’s not like a gun, which are created – simply – to destroy. Whether it’s target practice or use against a creature (or human, assuming you view humans as creatures 😉 ), it’s not something that typically has any real utility value for most people.

      As for the hard hats – Well, sure. I might have overlooked that point. But surely the hard hat scenario is pretty unlikely in most circumstances? And if you were in an area where that happened, would it not typically be the case that everyone else would (or should!) be wearing them?

      I might be cynical here, but isn’t H&S “over-protection” more for the benefit of the company? i.e. if anything goes wrong, they’re protected from any lawsuits/claims by making these H&S requirements?

      And now I just remembered those (infuriating) ambulance-chaser adverts on TV, the ones where someone slips on a wet floor and gets hurt so they sue the company. How about watching where you’re going? Bah! But that’s another discussion :p

  6. Brian says:

    Gun registry has a long history in Canada. The Act governing long gun registry was recently repealed. Why?

    “The evidence shows that the long-gun registry has not been effective in reducing criminal violence. Nor is the Canadian experience unique. No international study of firearm laws by criminologists or economists has found support for the claim that restricting access to firearms by civilians reduces criminal violence. And so ending the long gun registry is consistent with the basic principles of good fiscal management. Arguably any government program that fails to achieve its objectives should be shut down.”

    Here is the link to the article the above quote is from. Perhaps it is worth the read for some factual evidence and not speculation.

  7. Brian says:

    Apologies for the double post: Forgot to include the revealing quote from the above article:

    “It is difficult to argue that Canadian gun laws are effective when homicide rates have dropped faster in the United States than in Canada since 1991.”

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