ROSPA, or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, strikes me as a peculiarly British organisation. True, the Americans can be as risk-averse as anyone but it’s impossible to imagine, say, the Spanish or Italians or even the French having a society to prevent accidents. Nowadays, thanks to the machinations of insurance companies and our attachment to material goods, we are more risk-averse than ever and much more inclined to blame the other guy for fear that if we accept responsibility a slew of lawsuits and expenses will fall on our head – but ROSPA pre-dates the so-called ‘claim’ (or ‘blame’) culture and in the small hours of the night I found myself wondering what it actually does. Do they hover around people getting in their cars saying ‘Careful now,’ like Father Ted? Do they stand at junctions holding up warning signs? Do they stalk building sites with clipboards talking about ‘death traps’? (Actually building sites are known to be among the most dangerous working environments, not just because of the inherent hazards but because of poor working conditions and inadequate supervision, not to mention illegal employment practices. I wouldn’t be a builder today for any money, not even if I was allowed to wolf-whistle men in tight trousers walking down the road.) But what is it that ROSPA actually do? I guess it’s time to head over to their website and find out.
Well, it’s pretty much as you might expect; a combination of education, persuasion and trying to change legislation so that avoidable accidents don’t happen. That’s fair enough, isn’t it? You can’t argue with that, especially when you read some people’s stories about how their lives were changed completely by avoidable accidents. And yet…
Much of the debate around current safety rules, especially the wearing of masks, has centred on the right of governments to dictate what we should and shouldn’t wear. There have been similar debates in the past about issues such as smoking in public places and the wearing of seat belts. I remember both of these debates; and even though at the time I was a smoker and relished my freedom to smoke in pubs (a pub without smoke? Preposterous!) I couldn’t help acknowledging the arguments of bar staff that they should have the right to work in an environment that is not injurious to their health. And there’s the rub: I might argue that I have the freedom not to wear a mask and that I am entitled to take risks if I wish. I could make the same argument about seat belts; it’s my own life I’m risking and I’m entitled to risk it. But we do not exist in isolation; if I don’t wear a seat belt and I’m seriously injured as a result that has an effect on the NHS, not to mention others who may be traumatised by the event; and in the case of mask-wearing I definitely don’t have the right to put other people’s health at risk.
And yet… coronavirus aside, there is something here about the freedom to take risks – and somehow I feel that without some risk, life is not worth living. One of the major items on my bucket list is to get a motorbike again and travel round Scotland (I’d have to do this without OH, sadly, who refuses to countenance riding on one) – and this is undoubtedly a risky thing to do. I’d be much safer in a car or better still, on a train. But there’s nothing like a motorbike! To travel at speed, to feel the air around you and the wind in your hair (I wasn’t keen on helmets either when they became compulsory) it just doesn’t compare to sitting inside a metal box travelling from A to B. Of course I’d be careful; I’d take the risks seriously and ride as sensibly as I could – but there’s something about living on the edge that appeals to me and nobody is going to tell me not to.