When will the risk aversion nonsense stop?

by Dr Rob Long on May 17, 2014

in Risk Aversion,Robert Long

When will the risk aversion nonsense stop?

Guest Post by Dr Rob Long

Pretty little girl blowing on candles in the cakeThe Herald Sun headlines read KIDS will be banned from blowing out candles on communal birthday cakes, under strict new hygiene rules for childcare.’ (See article). Here is the latest is the race to further ‘dumb down’ risk, promote fear and chase after zero. What madness and illogic outcomes surface when people are driven by risk aversion and zero.

This news is the latest in guidelines issued by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to daycare centres. So no birthday cakes for fear someone will blow germs on someone else, then wander out into the playground and cough all over them anyway. No, no, no, the NHMRC has that one covered too, it advises that all children and staff wash their hands with alcohol sanitizer after playing in the sand pit. Fortunately, doctors are warning that such advice is ‘bubble wrapping’ children and could lead to kids not having enough resilience against germs.

The real problem is that parents are sending their children to school sick and rather than address the foundation of the problem it is much easier to just ban candles. The reality is the childcare system has a cultural problem and once again the solution is more regulation. Cultural problems cannot be solved with non-cultural solutions.

I was on a building site the other day where 9” angle grinders have been banned but not ‘demo saws’. What amazing logic with extraordinary consequences for steelfixers who need to navigate through the craziness of this ‘ban everything’ approach to solutions. It seems when people don’t know how to lead and influence others banning and paperwork do the trick. No thought for the fact that most bannings and regulations send expediency elsewhere. Often a problem doesn’t go away, it just gets shifted to where it either can’t be counted and won’t be seen. Maybe one day the regulator might work out that it’s not the tool that is the issue but people, organisations and culture that need to change. Maybe we should just ban work, then we might get zero harm.

I spoke to a roofer (with high vis shirt and logo) last week whilst I was waiting to get my morning coffee and noticed he was wearing a pair of Dunlop Volleys. After introducing myself I asked him why he wasn’t wearing steel capped boots, he replied that if he did it would be dangerous and he would have less traction. So I asked if he was able to do so on large tier one construction jobs to which he replied. ‘ Oh yes, we wear steel caps to the job and when we get up on the roof, we just switch over … the bosses never come up on the roof so it doesn’t matter’.

The real lesson in safety that people learn when this kind of double standard and ‘double speak’ logic prevails in society is that safety becomes the joke, nonsense is normalised. Rather than generate some sense of the ownership in risk, the more we ‘dumb down’ risk, the greater we increase cynicism and skepticism and thereby create a dangerous culture for the management of risk.

Meanwhile back at childcare centres you will be relieved to know that teachers have been instructed to mimic the use of cake and candles and construct plasticine cake and candles and mimic blowing. What a fun celebration that would be. Seems like the only exercise of imagination when it comes to risk aversion is that forced on users, there is little imagination happening at the other end.

  • Glen

    I like the article and agree on fixing cultural issues with regulations is hard, but in the case of the roofer wearing shoes for grip reasons and they do it to work safer then i say all the power to them,,,but i seem to recall it is the employers responsiblity to provide PPE as a last line of defense and thus the onus is on the employer to ensure they document the requirements of their PPE for workers through their risk management program, train their workers and ensure they provide safe working gear such as boots that have proper traction for working on roof tops.

    As far as Day care goes and the cake…well that is interesting. We are more concerned about germs from interaction of blowing out candles on a kids birthday cake than we are about the processed foods and sugar and salt and god knows what else we are feeding kids? My day care is taking initiatives in this regard and i am on the Board of Govenors so one of my goals is to get involved in this aspect of things.

    For example, we are going to start juicing real juice from real fruits such as organic oranges and pinapple for the kids on special days like Valentines Day and eliminate sugar drinks other than milk, which i won’t touch at this point.

  • George Kennedy

    Dr Rob, I agree with Dunlop Volleys for roof work. Most steel capped boots are fairly rigid in the sole. Volleys flex much more and and give much more traction and work from tiles to metal roofing. They give much more contact with the walking roof surface than other footwear. They can cope with moderate moisture on the roof.

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