We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

‘Elf and safety

“Back in Britain, the Mail on Sunday ran an interesting feature this weekend about a different example of what certainly sounded like a health and safety overreaction. It told the tale of a man who drowned in a shallow boating pond in his local park, after suffering an epileptic seizure while feeding swans. A passer-by (a woman who was in charge of a small child so did not dare enter the pond) called the emergency services. But the first firemen to show up announced that they only had Level One training, for ankle-deep water, and needed to wait for a specialist team with Level Two training for chest-deep water. By the time that team arrived, the man had been floating in the pond for 37 minutes. While waiting for that specialist help, the same firemen also strongly urged a policeman not to attempt a rescue in the pond, even refusing to lend the policeman a life-vest. Then the policeman’s control room told him not to enter the water, as the victim had been in the pond so long that it was a body retrieval mission, not a rescue.”

Writes a columnist in The Economist.

Then there is this:

“It is tempting to conclude that Britain has fallen into a serious problem with regulation, red tape and crippling risk-aversion.”

You think so? In fairness, the column is pretty good and it even goes on to wonder whether there is something seriously wrong with the UK national character. I tend to be a bit wary about such broad generalisations, though.

16 comments to ‘Elf and safety

  • Saxon

    I too don’t like broad generalizations, but when do these anecdotes become a trend and are a true reflection of what Britain has become?

    Wonder how these fools would have run the “empire”, let alone establish one!

  • manuel II paleologos

    Can you imagine what an English ski resort would be like?

    It would be all barriers, big signs, “we take assaults on our staff very seriously” customer service, “by invitation only” lift queues, speed limits, whiplash claims, CCTV, waiver forms, park & rides, litter, chips, you’d need a licence, and there’d be a graded attainment system before you’d be allowed on a red run.

  • jmc

    As I kid back in the 1960’s I remember hearing stories of incredible bravery by civilians who received the George Medal and George Cross. Often policemen and firemen who put themselves in great peril to save or protect members of the public. A quick look at the list of recipients of the George Medal since the 1960’s show a complete collapse in awards to these two groups since the mid 1990’s.


    So it seems that policeman and firemen in the 1970’s and 1980’s were just as brave as their fathers generation. But after the mid 1990’s all that changed. I wonder what happened in the mid 1990’s that caused such a fundamental change in public service culture? A change of government perhaps?

    Starting to look like yet another poison legacy of the Blair years.

  • RRS

    These “phenomena” are not just a U K matter; they are common to all nations which delegate authority from (theoretically) representative government.

    The rules and regulations come to be increasing prescribed by those who do not do the tasks, and even more often by those who have no connections with their implementation or impacts.

    That results is a departure from what is learned from experience and custom that was once the basis of human expectations in the conduct of others. In short – Law.

  • Stonyground

    As I was reading this I was waiting for the part where you said that it wasn’t actually true or that the facts had been distorted out of all recognition. If it really happened as described then I am pretty disgusted.

    Does anyone recall the story from a couple of years ago when some busybody had called the authorities because people were out skating on a frozen lake? It appeared that the thickness of the ice had been checked and deemed to be safe but no-one of any official capacity was able to take any action because the rules said that they couldn’t go on the ice.

    Who was it who said that rules are for the guidance of the wise and the blind obedience of fools?

  • Subotai Bahadur

    I know we are very different countries, but after reading this and remembering numerous occasions where I have come upon various life threatening incidents both on and off duty; and the reaction of bystanders was to jump in and help [and they did so very effectively], I have to just shake my head in wonder.

    Here, I suspect the woman with the child would ask the fireman if he had “Level One Babysitting” certification, hand the kid to him, and go to the rescue. Of course, in Britain, she would be arrested for doing that, I’m sure.

    What adds to my pessimism about Britain, is that I read about this bit of PC petty tyranny earlier this morning:


    God Save Britain. No lesser level of intervention will suffice.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • I’m skeptical of the Daily Mail story. It seems too ridiculous a scenario to be true, so I’ll wait for corroboration.

  • Grant Freedom

    I’m sure that had these people had been off duty, they would have jumped in and saved him without hesitation.

    It’s amazing how inhuman and unthinking the members of a large organisation can become.

  • Subotai Bahadur

    John Farrier @ February 28, 2012 09:00 PM

    As much as I dislike the ECONOMIST’s statist political attitude, the link in the posting mentioned the government inquest into the incident. That strikes me as at least a degree of corroboration that the incident took place at least close to how it was described, if not exactly. YMMV

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Jim

    People outside the UK should have no doubts that the article is an honest account of the incident.

    The Alison Hume case was very well documented (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2062590/Alison-Hume-inquiry-Mother-left-die-shaft-chiefs-wouldnt-use-winch.html) and was very similar, although worse, in that the lady was definitely still alive when the emergency services arrived at the scene.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Yes, but did they eventually clean the pond up? And did anyone give the baby its’ fifteen minutes of fame by interviewing it for what it thought of the whole thing?

  • Alisa

    Wonder how these fools would have run the “empire”, let alone establish one!

    But, Saxon, the Empire was bad, bad!

  • As the article says, it is not so much the legislation as the interpretation. What we are seeing is incompetent idiots employed – surprise surprise – in the public sector unable to interpret and implement otherwise reasonably sensible procedures. These people would struggle to empty a bucket of sand on the beach, so it’s hardly surprising they can’t manage HSE issues competently. The real problem is that they are employed to do so.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    The real problem is that there is no place for ducks to safely swim and eat! Would you swim in water where creatures had died recently? Were the ducks given trauma councelling?

  • Richard Thomas

    State-schooling success. The first completely compliant generation has been raised and deployed into society. Anyone with children needs to be thinking very carefully who they entrust their training and indoctrination to.

  • Alisa

    Actually, no, Tim – it’s rather more of a chicken and egg problem, only here I’m sure that it starts with the legislation. They end up hiring idiots because bright people would rather work under rules that actually make sense.