What would keep them safe?

What if we invented THE way to keep people safer, everywhere? Parents wonder and worry about their children’s safety. The work of safety professionals is to reduce the hazards, or effects of hazards, upon workers. And will our fourth branch of US government resist increasing its nannyist attention to safety of the citizenry? What else could keep people safer?

Last night Jim read some questionable advice on RVing safety on one of the millions of websites concerning full-time RVing. He ranted awhile and finally worked through how he felt about a couple of the suspect points. Okay, no big deal — we aren’t in business to change people and we have our hands full keeping ourselves safe. Why worry about other people?

Still, Jim looks at these issues through his professional lens as a former safety officer. Some things are black and white. Sure, we all know life is full of gray (and not just retiree gray things). The speed limits on our highways are, as our parents told us more than a few times, the MAXIMUM speeds. This is a black and white thing.

Don’t drive impaired, whether impaired by some chemical or by some distraction like texting or cellphone use while driving. This is a black and white thing. But the speed you should drive is definitely a gray thing — according to current conditions (including traffic, weather, road surface), your vehicle, your condition . . .

And safety? What aids have we to pick our way through the almost daily packaged food recalls, four bazillion new chemical compounds formulated in the past few decades, the air pollution present in so many locales, the sun’s UV effects everywhere, and the countless physical hazards anywhere? What would keep people safe?

Jim figured it out last night in an epiphany in those dreaming moments just as he was falling asleep. Here’s his narrative:

I was still turning over in my mind the safety message I sent tonight to a good friend. My message concerned someone else’s clueless and careless statements related to propane safety for RVs. Then I started falling asleep. Suddenly I had images of a myriad of balloons in the RV. The balloons were a variety of colors and sizes.

The biggest balloons, and the brightest colored, were the most hazardous ones. There are dozens and dozens of balloons but not all are so large or bright colored. You cannot thread your way through the balloons without contacting many of them. But you really need to avoid as many of the larger ones as you can. And try to stay away from the brightly colored ones.

You don’t know just what will happen if you bump into this big one, or that one. You’re confident the smaller ones are innocuous, just like rubbing against a smoothed piece of wood won’t likely result in painful splinters in your hand, or touching a warm surface feels better than contacting a very hot surface. Oh, another gray thing, right? The small ones are the small bumps and scrapes most of us tolerate well in everyday living, but what I can tolerate isn’t the same as for you.

How many things do we do that are proven to lead to injury, disease, or disability? A big balloon might be like smoking cigarettes as 1 in 5 Americans do, according to a recent Time Magazine report. Or maybe a big balloon might be obesity, a major relation of diabetes. Unsafe driving (let’s see: too fast; distracted; impaired senses; damaged equipment; others?) is dangerous.

Lighting an open fire inside your RV, now that would be a big and brightly colored balloon, right? If we could readily identify and rank the hazards in our paths, wouldn’t we be safer? All you need do is maximize your safety and health by navigating a path involving contact with the smallest number of big or brightly colored balloons. Maybe, maybe not.

Remember Leon Uris’ story about airlifting the tribal guys back in the 1950s? These resourceful folks got cold back there in the airplane. They understood what would make them warm and they lit a campfire on the steel deck floor of the plane. They didn’t understand the safety hazards of open flame in flight, because they couldn’t see the size or color of the balloons. But the Air Force guys were safety-trained. Open fires in an airplane in flight = very bad safety hazard. A big bright balloon this smoke and flame thing is without adequate ventilation and unavailable exit paths. It can be pretty simple, eh?

My job as a safety director for a large hospital was to market safety to as many people as I could, every day. I wish I could have made it so simple as telling people, “Don’t worry about bumping into the small balloons. But please, whatever you do, try not to hit the big or brightly colored ones.”

Oh, I think we’re back to the black and white versus gray stuff again. You can describe the balloons. You provide empirical evidence of results of contacts with the various sizes and colors of balloons. And some people just won’t believe. Some people, especially the younger ones, haven’t felt hurt, haven’t seen hurt, and don’t believe in it yet. They don’t think your evidence applies to them.

One in five Americans continue to smoke cigarettes, despite the significant short-term expense and the black and white evidence of the long-term health effects. Fifteen to twenty percent of motorists drive their automobiles without their seatbelt fastened, despite the certain risk of sudden and unlicensed flight. Forty to sixty-six percent of drivers ages 18-24 admit to texting while driving.

So the number of people ages 18-24 texting while driving is high, right? And this despite the certainty of impairment and very high probability (if not certainty) of vastly increased liability for resulting accidents.

Hazards, especially those with any degree of deferred effect, aren’t a black and white issue to many people. Even if a hazard really is black and white, we don’t think it will affect us just this once. It may be a sure thing, cause and effect. You do this, and this happens. And some people believe they can beat the odds no matter how slim.

What would keep them safe? I wish it was as simple as avoiding the big balloons.

[Aside: Gee, isn’t saving or not saving money just real similar to this argument?]

Jim and Debbie
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©2010 Dreamstreamr

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