Last November the local Council, bless them, paid for some contractors to repair the sea wall along a piece of road near where we live.
In a time of rising sea levels, that’s a good piece of work, just there.
However – and “however” is the code word for MrsDavy to close her eyes in preparation for one of my splendid riffs on what’s wrong with the world today – however, it appeared to me that the traffic safety programme they put in place during the works was an equal threat to the safety of the planet as a carbon-based economy.
They seemed to only be able to work on the sea wall for a few hours a day, what with tides and setting concrete, and daylight, and so on. Fair enough.
But they left the road signs in place, jutting out into a narrow piece of road on a blind corner, for the entire five weeks of the job. Every car, bus, cyclist and pedestrian had to avoid the signs by diverting into the path of whatever traffic might be coming the other way, 24/7.
In short, they paid attention to the form of safety rather then its substance.
We spent a little time in the Swiss Alps south of Interlaken. The LittleDavys had two days skiing (I know, I know, nothing says Global Middle Class like “skiing in Switzerland”, and it’s a shame I shall have to carry with me to my grave, but the snow was fabulous and at least we didn’t bump into Prince Andrew which would have been an entirely different risk environment), while MrsDavy and I did some mountaineering. (More on that later.)
Here’s the thing: there were exactly no attendants on any of the ski lifts.
Apparently it is possible for people to get on and off such devices without guidance, assistance or instructions all by themselves. My extensive experience of such things in New Zealand (hello Happy Valley!) had not prepared me for such a possibility.
You may have heard that the Dutch like to cycle. Having a country with the topography of a pancake may have something to do with it.
They seem to like to ride comfortable bikes with big fat tyres at a fairly sedate pace in normal clothes. Perhaps because nowhere is very far from anywhere else, and arriving sweaty is unnecessary and quite possibly impolite.
And they don’t wear helmets.
To be fair, my Dutch brother-in-law pointed out that car drivers are very considerate of bike riders. Along the lines of, in a car on bike collision, the car driver is always always always the one held responsible.
What’s my point? (Thank you, MrsDavy.)
Just this: that real safety is less about appearances (road signs, cycle helmets) than it is about culture (how we, individually and collectively, take responsibility for seeing and responding to risks). I fear that New Zealand is increasingly getting that the wrong way around. Every mishap is met with suggestions of new rules and equipment and tougher enforcement, rather than as an educational opportunity to reinforce good choices.
Put that into a rugby context, specifically head injuries. Having compulsory concussion protocols is a great step forward, but only if they operate within the right culture. If coaches and medical staff game the protocols to keep a key player on the field, we’ll have the appearance of safety but not the reality.
End of riff: you can wake up now MrsDavy.