(Harder than it might seem!)
This weeks health and safety discussion comes from the annual holiday season where we see or hear about accidents and incidents that the ‘general public’ get themselves into.
Every Holiday Season Sees More Deaths and Injuries.
Natural beauty spots across the globe can also be extremely hazardous. Is the addition of warning signs long-overdue, or would it be a blot on the landscape?
Accidents happen everywhere, not just in the workplace. If you’ve ever taken a walk along a river or near cliffs, you will no doubt have seen safety signs warning of the dangers. Some people feel we need more, while others argue that we need to protect nature from more signs.
(I know, Charles Darwin comes to mind right?!).
Today, we look at a classic example from America, which highlights the need for more safety signs. Every year, Elk River Falls in Avery County, North Carolina, attracts thousands of visitors, especially at this time of the year. It also claims on average half a dozen lives per year. Six have died already in 2018, the last two in the space of just six weeks.
It is just one example of the thousands of places that families will be exploring this summer that are both beautiful and potentially lethal. At Elk River Falls, there have been calls for more health and safety signs to alert visitors to the potential hazards, and for guard rails to be installed. Others feel that the rails would destroy the natural beauty and that the danger of a huge waterfall surrounded by sheer drops and rocky outcrops should be blindingly obvious.
I also wanted to discuss this topic today, because I live in a beautiful little place called Wirral- in between Liverpool and Chester. We have the River Dee in Chester which is fairly safe as its a narrow stretch and fairly calm. BUT- closer to me, we have the River Mersey. I live not too far from a place called New Brighton. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s basically a small sea side town, with a long stretch of beaches. It’s famous for quite a few things (notably if you’ve ever seen the Channel 4 advert on a promenade with red cranes in the background- well that’s the place anyway). I’m sure it was the first place in the UK to have outdoor swimming pools too- back in the good old days. I maybe making that up- can’t really remember.
Anyway, each year when the sun shines, the idiots come out to play. We often see stranded vehicles on a daily basis. The RNLI is probably one of the busiest stations in the country as they’re constantly in the water saving people.
Within the past week- we’ve seen 3x fatalities in the local area. Either from people falling in or being swept away. When I was a teenager, one of my friends went for a swim and never returned.
There’s open access for anyone and anything to enter the water. It seems sunshine, holiday giddiness and maybe alcohol (on some occasions) plays a huge part in people making potentially fatal mistakes.
Nobody told me not to
On the face of it the latter contention sounds compelling. However, we live in an era in which we are accustomed to any and all risks being assessed and mitigated – particularly when we are on unfamiliar territory.
When stopped and rescued, some of the individuals have been quoted to say ‘there were no signs telling me not do it’.
Sure, it sounds a little crazy, but perhaps it shows that the UK’s impressive record in creating a health and safety culture has come at something of a cost. People are less likely to assess risks to themselves if they feel that assessment is somebody else’s responsibility. And if no mitigation measure has been implemented, for example a sign or a guard rail, then the subconscious assumption is that no risk exists.
More accidents at Elk River
Back in North Carolina, meanwhile, the accidents continue and the death count rises. Last year, a woman and her eight year old daughter wandered to the very edge of the self-same drop that has claimed so many lives. A park ranger was present, discussing the falls with local journalists, and shouted to them to step back to safety. The woman, Dell Lowe, told journalists: “we would have gone further if he hadn’t warned us it was dangerous.”
I know it’s apples and oranges comparing UK H&S to USA H&S- but you get the point.
Health and safety no longer left to chance
Perhaps the biggest difference between attitudes to health and safety today and those of years gone by is that so little is now left to chance. Bags of peanuts warn those with nut allergies that the product contains nuts, theme park water rides warn people that they will get wet and so on.
Ultimately, we sometimes need to take a step back from the cliff edge, both literally and figuratively, and take a little responsibility for our own actions. However, at locations like Elk River Falls and New Brighton, it is surely a case of when, not if, the safety measures will be improved to prevent further loss of life.
That’s my piece for this week! Enjoy the nice weather and stay safe!!!!
I would love to hear what your thoughts are on this topic!
Why not drop me an email to discuss further- firstname.lastname@example.org