We cannot eliminate every risk in life
Health and safety has indeed gone slightly mad
Published 17 April 2012 | Rob James
I buried an old friend several months ago, but I couldn’t help thinking of him when I stumbled across yet another health and safety disaster the other day.
Idris lived a long and active life. He finally passed away at the ripe old age of 88 but given his adventurous streak he could well have ‘gone home’ much earlier! There was one notable occasion for example when he and his twelve-year-old friends went hunting rabbits along the banks of the river Cleddau near Milford Haven.
They set sail on a borrowed raft but on the return journey they were swept out into the middle of the river, eventually beaching on the wrong side of the waterway. They were not able to re-float it because of the falling tide but they managed to enlist the help of the occupants of a local pub who helped them re- launch, thus allowing them to paddle their way back home across a very dangerous stretch of waterway.
Now I would never encourage any teenager to imitate Idris and his friends, but I couldn’t help wondering what he would make of the health and safety fiasco that centred on the trauma of a stricken herring gull a week or so ago.
The bemused residents of Carshalton must have been rubbing their eyes in disbelief when twenty-five fire fighters were scrambled to rescue a stricken gull that had become tangled in a plastic bag in the local pond. But, this was only the beginning of the farce because it was left to a wildlife centre volunteer to wade out into the waist deep water to rescue the frightened bird. It seems that the necessary risk assessment had concluded that it was “too unsafe” for the fire crews to do the job!
Not surprisingly the manager of the local bird centre was quick to point out: “It was a bit ridiculous really. Five fire crews turned up, but because of protocols they couldn’t go into the water. It is health and safety gone mad.”
It seems that over the years we have steadily produced what I have come to describe as a ‘Joan culture’. Joan was the mother of a young lad who was in my class at school. She was excessively nervous and saw danger everywhere. She even stopped her son attending swimming lessons because she was scared that he would drown! ‘Joan cultures’ are the product of over-intrusive bureaucracy and an unhealthy approach to compensation.
It is not wrong to assess risk. Indeed we should do all we can to minimise risk. But life will always be full of risk. It’s a consequence of living in a fallen world. Going into hospital can be a risky business. And according to ‘Which’ magazine, purchasing chickens from supermarkets can be very risky too. Laboratory tests carried out by the consumer group have found that 18 per cent of whole and partial chickens from leading grocery chains was carrying campylobacter, the most common form of food borne illness in Britain.
Christians, more than anyone else, should appreciate the importance of risk. We are asked to stake everything on the claim that God has raised Jesus from the dead, and that it is better to lose everything for His sake than to gain the whole world. That’s a big risk, especially for those who are faced with persecution, imprisonment and death for their faith. It’s a huge risk for the Christians of North Korea for example, who face the prospect of losing their children if they publicly identify with a man who was executed as a condemned criminal two thousand years ago. It’s been well said that faith can often be spelled “RISK”.
Christianity will always involve a leap of faith. Martin Luther put it well when he said: “Faith is a free surrender and a joyous wager on the unseen, untried and unknown goodness of God.”
But of course the alternative is very risky too, for if there is one thing riskier than leaping into the welcoming hands of a loving God it’s the danger of falling out of them.
As Jim Eliot said sometime before he was martyred in a South American jungle, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."