The Common Sense Imperative, Pt. 2 – Safety First?

Canadian Common Cents

“Common sense always speaks too late. Common sense is the guy who tells you you ought to have had your brakes relined last week before you smashed a front end this week. Common sense is the Monday morning quarterback who could have won the ball game if he had been on the team. But he never is. He’s high up in the stands with a flask on his hip. Common sense is the little man in a grey suit who never makes a mistake in addition. But it’s always somebody else’s money he’s adding up.”

Philip Marlowe, in Playback (1958), by Raymond Chandler
There are so many areas of our lives where common sense is lacking that we hardly know where to begin. However, some are so egregious that they stand out above the rest! Let’s start with the recent fad of having people be forced by law to protect certain parts of their anatomy when engaging in activities deemed by others to be dangerous! All manner of sporting and leisure activities, even when carried out in a leisure or hobbyist environment now require an endless supply of safety equipment such as helmets, gloves, wristguards, facemasks, goggles, elbow pads, shin pads and the list goes on….

" But mom, I just want to play in the sandbox!"

Now don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that safety equipment is not a good idea but I don’t believe that governments should have the ability to coerce me into using it against my own better judgement. Let me give just a couple of examples from personal recent experience that highlight the foolishness that can result.

Just last year, while on holiday in Peru, I went paragliding in Lima. The flight begins with one taking a running jump off a cliff with a sheer drop of several hundred feet. My attire was shorts, t-Shirt, sneakers and a helmet. The helmet was mandatory and one could not participate without it. Now, in what possible scenario was a helmet going to make the difference between life and death? I can see the coroner’s inquest now:
The coroner asks the Medical Examiner: “What was the cause of death?”
The M.E. replies, “Massive trauma to 85% of his body due to a fall from 600 feet”.
“Only 85%?” the coroner queries.
Well, after all,” quips the M.E. “he was wearing the mandated helmet.. His head remained in near perfect condition. He is still just as dead though!”
The moral here: If at first you don’t succeed then paragliding is probably not for you…..

A few years prior to the Peru trip, I was roller-blading in the neighbourhood and was going downhill. I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt and no other protective gear. I lost balance when I hit a small crack in the road and fell at considerable speed. My right wrist was broken. I spent much of the next year overcoming significant health problems which all stemmed from that broken wrist and a subsequently bungled treatment at a local hospital (part of the wonderful public health system extolled by Michael Moore). When I finally visited a surgeon to discuss possible surgery to correct a now incorrectly reset bone fracture, he told me that he had treated many injuries resulting from roller-blading. I asked how he felt about wrist-guards. He answered that for him it made little difference. In most cases, if the speed was sufficient to cause a fracture, the wristguard merely transferred the position of stress. Instead of a broken wrist, he would instead be dealing with a double fracture of radius and ulna!

I must admit that I now wear both a helmet and wristguards when I lace up the rollerblades but this is because I know that I am liable to fall again! In fact, I did so this summer. I got some nasty bruises on my buttocks as a result! Perhaps I should start a movement to force everyone to wear a hockey girdle to prevent this. I also wear a helmet when I cycle but I am much less convinced of its necessity or practicality. As a child, I had numerous spills whilst cycling and thrice ended up in hospital as a result. Once with a broken wrist and another time a torn ligament in my leg and the final time as a precaution with no other ill-effects than a sore groin! Not once would a helmet have helped!

This summer a situation arose where we had to use our common sense. We had visitors from France and were planning a cycling trip. We had enough bicycles and helmets for all five participants. However, we discovered that none of our helmets could be adjusted to fit one of the riders. Is it possible that the French have bigger heads? Accordingly, with his agreement, he travelled without head protection. We were not going to be travelling on roads for much of the journey and he was not accustomed to wearing a helmet in his own country anyway. If we had done the same outing in France, in all probability, none of us would have been wearing helmets! And yet, on the Tour de France all participants wear helmets. For me, this is common sense in practice. The likelihood of a fall is increased and with all those cyclists in close proximity and at those speeds, head protection just makes sense.

All through my school years, I played soccer, cricket, rounders (baseball), tennis and rugby. Most of the time, this was totally without any of the safety equipment that is now the norm. Many of the things we did in the gym without safety nets or harnesses would make today’s parents cringe. I am sure that there were the normal assortment of bumps, bruises and the occasional sprain or broken bone. However, to my knowledge, no parents ever threatened to harass the teachers or sue the schoolboard and there was no clamour for protective equipment. How ridiculous is it that almost all of the playground equipment that we used as children is now banished? Slides, swings, see-saws (teeter-totters), maypoles, roundabouts have all been either modified to the point where they are totally lame or eradicated altogether. We want our children to forsake the video games and take to the outdoors but we want them to do it in a sterile, harmless environment where they can not possibly come to any grief. Not only is this not fun, it also does not teach them how to fend for themselves. To put it bluntly, we have become a society of sissies…..

Don’t think that we only restrict ourselves to limiting our children’s fun in order to protect them from themselves. Within the last 12 months, I have come across numerous instances when hiking or visiting monuments, national parks etc. where access has been barred due to ‘dangers’. One of the most ridiculous is where access is barred to the edge of a cliff on the South Downs in the UK. To stop people from falling off? And yet people wishing to commit suicide at Beachy Head near Eastbourne still seem to find a way!

I had forgotten just how namby-pamby we have become in North America until I visited Peru where guard-rails and fences were all but non-existent. On the Inca Trail, you sign a paper to state that you are responsible for your own safety! When climbing WaynaPicchu one of the highest, steepest and most treacherous parts of Maachu Picchu, there are no guard rails and often even no handholds. In some parts, where only a single person may pass but there is two-way traffic, one must yield or both will fall to their deaths. There are no wardens, first-aid people or security guards in this section either. People must either behave safely and co-operate or face the consequences. Still, I heard of no accidental or other kind of death while we were there, though we did see one young lad being helped by his two friends back to their point of departure because he had sprained his ankle and was 24 hours walk from civilisation! Those are the risks and if you are not prepared to deal with the possible unfortunate results of your actions, by all means do not attempt the Inca Trail. It’s just common sense!

Would it have helped if this guy had been wearing a helmet?

One afternoon an avid golfer woke up in hospital with severe head injuries. The nurse beside him asked, “What happened to you?”
“Well,” he said, “I was playing golf yesterday with my wife and we teed off at the second hole. I hit a beautiful drive 280 yards right down the middle of the fairway. My wife teed off and she sliced the ball into a field of cows. We searched for several minutes and then I lifted the tail of one of the cows and spotted the ball lodged up its rear end. All I said was ‘This looks like yours, dear!’ and that’s the last thing I remember!

He was probably not using his common sense…..

(More to follow)