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Risk analysis? What's that?

17 September 2018

Elf and Safety... it's a hot topic these days and has become a real career path for clip-board carriers, lawyers and bureaucrats alike.

The idea is that we can't possibly be trusted to fear for our own lives and we're all far too stupid to be trusted with our safety or the safety of others unless huge amounts of red-tape, paperwork and the threat of nasty penalties are held over our heads.

Okay, fair enough... some people are just plain stupid -- but Darwinism is designed to weed them out pretty promptly and it should be remembered that without Darwinism, we would still be a single-celled creature living in primordial ooze.

Yay for Darwinism, that's what I say! Let the stupid people wipe themselves from the face of the Earth!

However... it's back to reality and we now live in a world dominated by bureaucrats and bossy sods who have the power to tell us exactly what to do -- even though, in far too many cases, they've never actually done the tasks in question themselves and are simply working from "book learning".

How would you feel about being taught to ski and coached to Olympic levels by someone who'd never even seen snow but had read about it in that wonderful story "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe"?

What's even worse, the situation we presently have (far too often) is people who've been involved at a professional level, safely engaging in a difficult, potentially dangerous occupation, for many years, now being told exactly what they can and can't do -- by some upstart "twenty-something" who has apparently gathered all their skill, knowledge and understanding from behind a desk on the fifth floor or some government department.

Don't get me wrong, the safety diktats that these eager young things come up with *do* make these difficult and potentially dangerous tasks much safer -- but at what cost?

I cringe each time I see three people digging a hole in the local park. We have the man with the spade, the man with the works-order and specification, and the "safety officer" who is there to make sure that the other two don't step out of line and violate some aspect of the safety plan -- such as scratching their nose without first washing their hands -- so as to reduce the risk of possible infection.

A great example of this was when several park benches were installed here at the local park. The local council workers (operating under strict safety rules) spent several days... erecting safety fences to stop the public from plunging down the huge 200mm hole that was to be dug... wearing suitable safety gear so that the fluorescent spray-paint wouldn't saturate their lungs if a puff of it blew their way when the area of the excavation was being marked out... adjusting their protective eyewear in case a speck of dust was lofted into the air by the action of the spade... etc, etc.

From memory, it took a team of three to five men (depending on the day) more than a week to dig a shallow 2.5m x 1m x 200m hole, box it up, pour some concrete and then dynabolt the bench seat in place. How expensive was that???

Meanwhile, the local Rotary club set about doing the same task. Despite not being burdened with a mountain of safety plans, red tape, triple-layer hi-viz and bureaucratic overhead, nobody in the small group who did the work, nor any member of the public suffered any injury during the process -- which took a couple of hours on the first day (to dig and pour) and an hour or so a couple of days later (when the seat was finally bolted to the (now hardened) concrete slab. How cheap was that?

I'm a big advocate of safety -- but I'm also a big advocate of "just enough".

We can spend a fortune going from 98% safe to 99% safe -- and see very little return for that massive extra cost. A sensible person would establish the level of "acceptable risk" and balance that against the cost of going further. A bureaucrat, spending other people's money, seldom bothers to do that small piece of math and prefers to believe that by spending ten times as much money for a few percent increase in safety, they've done a better job.

If these bureaucrats are ever put back in charge of road safety -- I can see the return of the man with the red flag who will walk ahead of very one of our horseless carriages so as to warn others of their approach.

So where am I going with this?

Well on the weekend I received a copy of the Ministry of Transport's "Draft UA Integration Paper" in which the difficult issue of integrating "drones" into our national airspace is discussed.

A number of options are mooted and a number of awfully sweeping (and largely untrue) generalisations are made.

How can they be so far off-beam with this?

Very simple... we (once again) have a bunch of folk sitting behind desks who are trying to regulate something of which they have ZERO actual experience or understanding.

My big question to them (as I have asked of CAA) must be: "Where is your risk analysis?"

There answer (as CAA's was) will almost certainly be "We haven't done one".

How the hell can you come up with ways to make something safer if you haven't identified the nature and magnitude of the risks involved?

Oh, I know how... why not just read the Daily Mail and listen to the wailings of groups with vested (commercial) interests -- that's bound to be the path to safety... right?

I may disclose a little more detail of what's in that draft paper and leave you gobsmacked with the naivety of some aspects. Stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, *I* will be the arbiter of what is safe for me and those around me. The use of that old-fashioned ingredient "common sense" combined with liberal helpings of knowledge, experience and understanding, have kept me, my friends and all those who come into contact with me -- safe and healthy for more than 65 years so far.

But of course that counts for nothing when dealing with bureaucrats. They appear not to dwell in the realm of facts, historic data and real risk analyses.

Sigh!

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