Frontlines – The Impossibility of Eliminating Risk

Someone goes to the theatre and, because they know one of the actors,  they go back stage to meet them afterwards.

“How was it?” the actor asks. “Great,” comes the response – “but I thought you were better in Macbeth.” Immediately, in keeping with theatre superstition about the “Scottish play”, the miscreant is sent outside to turn around three times before knocking to be readmitted.

That’s one approach to risk management, a notion that has become all too familiar these days as bizarre safety warnings become commonplace. Of course, we can see good reasons to take care of health and safety and the comfort of others in the home and at work.

We care too about whether we’ll be sued  for missing a vital piece of information or letting a situation get out of control.

But although the importance of enabling children and young people to stay safe is rightly accepted, we maintain an ambivalent attitude towards some activities. The problem is that we cannot eliminate  risk. Nothing that we do is entirely safe. While some individuals will seek to maintain a simple routine, others strive for the buzz of courting danger. Some young people like to hurtle downhill on mountain bikes in a manner outside my comfort zone. Others use drink or drugs, arguably for the same thrill to escape the mundane and over-protected safety of everyday life.

If it is complicated owning responsibility for the lives of others, what of those “adventurers” among us? Women in extreme sports find themselves condemned for the possible impact on their children. Why do we not react in the same way towards men? What of all those Sunday afternoons many spend in their front rooms staring for hours at cars driving fast round and round and secretly believing it’s only exciting when there’s a crash?

We need to be sure that we have done all that is reasonable to ensure safety. It is right that there are health and safety  inquiries and reasonable that we are held to account for the work we do. But so long as we value the notion of “fastest” or “highest”, and particularly as long as we want to watch, then we need always to accept the possibility of tragedy in a full and exciting life.

Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker

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