Monday 29 June 2015

Health & Safety

Most people are Health & Safety concious. It's nurtured into our everyday life and becomes almost automatic. When we are young we learn about things that are hot, by touch. We learn to recognise many dangers consciously or subconsciously. The latter is generally manifest when we get a feeling about something. The lesson is learned either consciously or subconsciously and generally it stays with us for the rest of our lives. Health & Safety is just the application of common sense guided by our lifetime of experiences in reducing the risk where obvious hazards exist.

However, there are people who enjoy taking the risk. We have a very descriptive name for them. We call them 'adrenalin junkies'.  They will climb a sheer rock face on a mountain or jump out of an aircraft and free fall for thousands of feet. But each uses equipment designed to make the process safer. Using a parachute and having a back-up or emergency parachute. The Health & Safety process is recognising the level of risk involved (scope) and then mitigating (managing out) the risk as far as possible.

For me it was always riding a motorcycle, learning by having a few bumps and scrapes along the way. The experience was full of learning opportunities. The first is by recognising your limitations, employing defensive riding and the third is by trusting your feelings. A new bike had a whole new feel. Then as time went on your learned how the bike feels on a myriad of different and variable road surfaces. We have a name for this - its called 'driving by the seat of your pants'.

However, life sometimes throws up a scenario for which we have no experience to fall back on especially when making a judgement. In my case, it was a medical problem. I had a lifetime of experiences to fall back on. Cuts, burns, scalds, bruises and the associated pain. However, when you discover you have a heart problem, then its a whole new ball game. Now, you have to take advice from someone else. Advice that is built upon their experience. Not as a patient but as a doctor treating patients. Suddenly, you have a serious situation and its your call. So you seek sage advice. Doctors spell out the risks of different treatments - but in the end, its still your call.

For me it was medication or intervention. The risks were thoroughly discussed though I introduced a slightly different perspective. I asked what the risks were, as everyone does. But them I asked about the pros and cons of each treatment. The pros and cons were the decider for me. I could have been on medication for the last 12 years or as in my case. I was fitted with a pacemaker and after the transitional period the medication was reduced to almost nothing. I took aspirin and statins as a precaution rather than as a requirement - I was reducing the risk. Soon afterwards the aspirin was removed and I went on to a lower dose of statin. 

After twelve years my little pacemaker was showing signs that the battery was now getting low. The electronics which had been state of the art at the time - was now - the equivalent of a 12 year old computer that would have been disposed of years ago.  So now I have a new super computer plugged in with lots of additional bells and whistles.  However, I have only one worry. I worked for many years with computer systems and when asked about any particular problem. The way to manage an issue was to first of all get the computer into a known state. We usually did this by saying to the user - just turn it off and then turn it back on again. Then enquiring 'Is it working OK now?'

There is just one human trait that we all have trouble dealing with, which is - complacency - its never happened, so it never will. People encourage complacency, for some it seems to be their mission in life. This is quite a high risk strategy to adopt. With the possibility of dire consequences.  On the boat we have 'high vis, auto inflating life vests'. We even have one for the dog. When on rivers, we always wear them, even the dog. On canals we generally don't wear them. Unless its a short canalised section of a river and we can't be bothered to take them off just  to put them back on soon afterwards on the next section of river. 

Learning from other peoples experiences is a trait that as humans we seem to have an aversion for. It starts quite young and is usually seen as us railing against our parents wishes and advice. You know - those old 'Fuddy Duddies' that we have now become. We now say what our parents also said ' You can't put an old head on young shoulders.'  I'm of the belief that life is characterised by a life long learning process. The day you think you're too old to learn is when you become the last category. A liability. Though I must admit - that some people reach this pinnacle - much earlier than others. 

Now we have a folding bike stowed away on the boat. Yes, we are also amongst the bane of the boaters life - towpath cyclists. We also have the helmets and gloves, but we don't habitually travel at a fast speed. Now, I have even started to wear the life preserver and cycling helmet in long low tunnels. We have them on the boat, so why not wear them.
Learning from the tragedy of Michael Holgate who drowned in Harecastle Tunnel on Trent and Mersey Canal. After banging his head on a low point in the tunnel and falling off his boat into the water. His wife Susan spent two hours trying to find him in 'pitch black conditions'. The couple were just like us had retired and planned to spend rest of their lives, cruising along the canals.
The white cycle helmet has a white led light at the front and a red led light at the back. It means that, if I end up in the water for any reason. I should be maintained on the surface and much easier to spot in the water. We also have small waterproof torches that fit into any pocket. I am consciously mitigating the risk and maybe now I should modify what our parents said 'You can't put an old head back on old shoulders.'  

You insure your home, car and boat - in the expectation and hope that you will never need to make a claim. Good health and safety practice is exactly the same.

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