Friday, 3 February 2012

Health and safety for kids.

You have gotten to know something about me from reading this blog. I have an opinion on most things. I am prepared to share my opinion whether its wanted or not.  I tend to fire straight from the hip, but hidden away is a more caring and gentle side. I often write a posting and then give it a few days for me to reflect upon, before posting it up on the blog.

Today's posting is one which has had me reflecting for longer than usual. It is with regard to accidents and safety issues which pop up into the local and national press from time to time. When you read about accidents and safety in the press its for three reasons. Some one has died as a result of a tragic accident. Someone has suffered a life changing accident or someone has been paid out a large sum of money because of an accident.

I have heard all the arguments, there is no such thing as an accident. That may be true, but I would argue that its much more important to know - there is no such thing as perfect safety. Are we over cautious, do we have expectations that can't be fulfilled, is this the product of a nanny state, should we pay less heed. I believe that getting the balance right is a long term strategy and that knee-jerk reactions fuelled by sympathy only make the issue worse.

The canals and rivers are a case in question. Every year we read about tragic deaths occurring on various waterways. Each one is a heart rending story and each involve the sad loss of a loved one. All to frequently the loss is of a young person. If you have the slightest bit of compassion in your heart, you can't help but be moved by such stories.

Behind each one of these stories lies a group of broken friends and family. Each is wondering what if I had done this or if I had done that, would it have changed the outcome. The answer will remain unknown forever, but that will not stop them wondering and wishing. Nothing can be done for the inconsolable, other than to give them time to grieve and time to heal. As the healing takes place there is a positive feeling that comes. Is comes from thinking is there anything I can do to stop this happening to someone else. This is a lifeline in the healing process, driven by the need to feel that the life lost, has not been wasted.

For some its fund raising, for others its direct action. We have all contributed in some way. Funerals have changed to become a celebration of a life and we are asked to donate to some cause in place of flowers. For others its often a motivational campaign about the issue surrounding the lost life, and we are happy to sign a petition, lending our weight for a change. Often we don't fully understand the issue, but we care enough for the feelings of others to sign.

The problem is that we know that sooner or later another young person will be involved in a tragedy. Realistically is there anything that can be done. Short of cosseting and wrapping in cotton wool and forbidding them from exploring and learning in the school of hard knocks. No, there is little or nothing that can be done, but each of us lives and learns. That's where the answer lies.

I know a lot about children - I used to be one.

I know that our priorities were different to our parents. They warned us against doing things like playing along the canal. We said we would not go, often in the knowledge that its just what we would do. Our parents are spoil sports and what do they know. I am young I know best. My family values does not have any reverence for age. Old people are fuddy duddies just to be ignored.

We are young and we are invincible.

Danger is part of the fun element of what we get up to. We climb rocks, we swim in the water, we do it many times. The doing is where we learn the lessons of life. We have close scrapes and near misses and it is in this way that we learn about how fragile we actually are. We break a bone, we suffer a cut, we knock ourselves out, we get knocked over. We patch up our wounds and we are off to do it all over again. A dare or a challenge from a peer has to be met, as cowardice as a wimp is the alternative. Bravado and bluster are out traits, we take on the challenge. A rite of passage from our childhood into the more complicated teenage years.

Our parents have no idea, their memories are short. They fret when we are late home always expecting the worse. We get grounded if we are found out. So next time we take extra measures to make sure that they will not find out. Living life is exciting as a child, it kits us out for the future, it builds our character, it makes us adventurous, it make us into what we become. We live our secret life away from our parents eyes, outside in the fresh air with our various friends.

Contrast this with the alternative.

In reality - the main problem comes from our parents. They have busy lives with cares and worries of their own. We have to fit in to a sleeping, working, cooking, cleaning life, that we don't understand. We arrive home from school and watch television, or go to our bedroom and an xbox, to play the shoot-em-up games. Go on our computer and surf the Internet and the life building experiences that brings. All done on our own, it can be a very boring experience. We become introvert, we accept that there is no alternative. We experience few challenges we are poor at life skills.We learn little.

Adults have short memories - their childhood is soon forgotten. The lessons they gathered in life are not shared, they are just warned against. A warning is supposed to carry across their experiences onto young shoulders. One hour is needed spent skipping stones across the surface of a pond or canal shared with your child. Talking about what to do when you fall in. Not if you fall in but when you fall in. Be proactive, that is the way to go prepare them for life's challenges.

Building fences along the canal is not the way forward - it adds an element of danger and an additional challenge to our kids. Putting up warning notices, get real. Warning notices tell us the best place to be for danger. Our kids have no time for reading notices they are on an adventure, they can read the boring notices later. Warnings, fences and notices are just a panacea for adults consciences. Kids see it differently to us. They are looking for a challenge and enjoyment, we are looking to remove their pleasure and enjoyment.

Noticed all the signs that populate our lives. Mind the step, danger deep water, hot water scalds - you don't say. In this world of a blame is a claim - the world has gone crazy and it is us who have lost the plot.

Look at it from a child's perspective.

Each day when we drive along the busy road into town, we are reliving our childhood. We are surrounded by signs, no left turn, speed limit, road names, no right turn, pelican crossing. The signs are there, we actually see very few. We already know the road, the signs convey nothing. At the same time we are watching our speed, we are watching other traffic, we are looking out for pedestrians. There are other distractions, we might be late, will we find a parking place, our mobile is ringing.

Our children don't see the signs along the canal, they already know the place, they have been many times before. They are distracted by texting or listening to music on their MP3 player. They are laughing and enjoying horseplay with their friends. If you are worried about the canal - first teach your child to swim, then talk to them about how to get out. NarrowBoat World article.

The Bridge.
I was brought up alongside a two rivers and a canal. I fell into the river whilst walking along a bridge parapet. (I know the parapet is not the place to cross a bridge, but it was fun and I had done it many times before.) I never felt in danger. Being soaked through was something I could not hide, but I knew I would not be in trouble with mother when I got home.

Dad would be different matter, so I carefully avoided him! My mother had made sure I could swim from an early age. She insisted I went to the public baths at least a couple of times a month. I was encouraged to join various groups from the scouts to the sea cadets. I had lots of adventurous friends. I learned many skills, the most important one was good judgement.

On a nice day mother would take me for a walk and we would skip a few stones across the surface. She would ask about my friends and what we got up to. One day she said, "how did you get out from the river." I told her about the problems scrambling up the steep bank side by holding on to tufts of grass. She said "I would have used those branches on the tree over there. They reach down to the water, it would be much easier than trying to claw your way up the bank side." It just made you think, I still remember it well all these years later. There were no dire warnings about drowning, all that achieves is fear. She encouraged me to think it through, for if and when the inevitable should happen again. She always said "take care I love you" as I went out, but there was never a warning about what not to do.

There is much we can do, we can encourage our children to wear life vests when they are on the boat. We can't encourage them to wear a life vest when going out for a walk alongside the canal. We can teach the green cross code - but what can you teach about a moments distraction. We can teach about the danger of ice, but what can you teach about the fun of breaking through the ice with a stone. Crossing a lock gate is more fun than crossing a bridge. Celebrations where teenagers have a little to much to drink and think that they are superman are all to frequent. Narrowboat World article.

Over the years, the inevitable has happened again. I have been in the river twice unintentionally. I have been in the canal once unintentionally. But I already had a plan of what to do in mind - at no point did I ever feel in danger. I did feel a complete pillock on each occasion. But I know that no fence or sign would have helped.

In today's world - I should have signs everywhere on the boat. Warning everyone who comes aboard about the obvious and implicit dangers we encounter every day in our life. The market is huge and there are specialist, who as Basil Fawltey said to Sybil "have a degree in  stating the bleeding obvious."
We have now reached the point where warnings are ignored by the public because peoples perception is "its a legal requirement" and of no real value. I think there is an element of truth, the signs are not for your benefit. They are intended to save someone from the world of blame and claim.

Now, research has shown that "Street Furniture" (that's signs, bollards, crossings, and other items to you and me) actually detract from safety. A new industry has started to counteract the confusion created for drivers and pedestrians by too many signs, tripping hazards and confusing layouts.

Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. CABE was the government’s adviser on architecture and urban design and public space from 1999 to 2011. One of their projects was a 1.2 km section of the A215 Walworth Road in Southwark London. First of all the road underwent major de-cluttering. By removing approximately 600 unnecessary signs, poles and around 425m of pedestrian guard rails. The safety record for this busy section of road has improved.  Fences and signs may actually exacerbate an unsafe situation rather than improve it. It does not stop when we leave our teens, some people get themselves into difficulty for other reasons. NarrowBoat World Article.

The Missing People's (PDF document) charity research has shown that there has been a dramatic increase in deaths from drowning as the result of men binge drinking and being incapable of looking after their own welfare. There can be other reasons outside of your control even foreseeable dangers. NarrowBoat World Article. Some remain unexplained. NarrowBoat World article.

What will surprise most people are the number of water related deaths. More than 400 people died in 2009 Read the report (PDF document) as a result of accidents or other incidents in or on inland waterways including rivers, lakes, canals, harbours, marinas and docks (National Water Safety Forum, 2011)

However, there are times when a danger is allegedly being ignored. One such case is when trees along a canal or river are reported as being dangerous. NarrowBoat World article. Trees can fall for a number of reasons, deterioration through age, climatic conditions such as strong wind or ice and snow cover. The advice to boaters is never moor under trees, they are obviously not always safe and could put lives at risk.

Why do parents feel that the safety of their child is someone else's problem or someone else's fault. The safety of your child and the responsibility that comes with it - is solely in your hands. Teach them whilst they are very young - reinforce through their early years. Don't warn them about danger, educate them about danger. At the very least make sure they can swim.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please put your name to your comment. Comments without a name may automatically be treated as spam and might not be included.

If you do not wish your comment to be published say so in your comment. If you have a tip or sensitive information you’d prefer to share anonymously, you may do so. I will delete the comment after reading.