Look at the warning labels on a ladder. Death and paralysis lurking on every step. Warnings so severe that it would seem the only people who have used a ladder are people who have never read or understood the warnings. “Look here,” they seem to say, “wouldn’t it be better to hire someone to do this job instead?” But we use them anyway, thus ignoring the constant plea issuing from the decals: “Come down! Come down! You’ll die.” Each year in the U.S., the death toll from ladders is 300 and an additional 100,000 people are treated in emergency rooms for ladder injuries. (Safe Ladder Management). Death and injury lead to lawsuits and lawsuits lead to additional warnings on products. As it is, ladders carry enough warnings that it would seem the manufacturers are begging their customers not to buy them. Are they effective? Perhaps in offering the manufacturers some protection from lawsuits.
Compare that with the warning label on an apple pie from McDonald’s or a coffee cup from Starbucks – again, warnings so dire that only someone who can’t read would purchase those products. Warnings everywhere. Nothing is safe. Everything is dangerous. It’s right there on the label, on the cup, on the wrapper. Each one is affixed with good intentions and proper legal advice. But the sum total of the craze to warn is that everything is somehow uniformly worthy of warning and therefore, somehow uniformly dangerous. And when everything is dangerous, then nothing is dangerous, because the human brain cannot discriminate.
We wish for progress. We want improvement. A better life. A safer world for our children. If it is safe today, it needs to be even safer tomorrow. The constant drive to make things more safe has led to a desire for safety perfection. But the perfect is the enemy of the very good. A primary weapon in this drive for perfection is idiot-proofing. Implicit in every idiot-proof solution is an assumption that the user or the operator is incapable of rational thought and the only way to prevent the idiots from harming themselves is to make it impossible (or so it would seem) to make a mistake.
Another challenge in making realistic assessments of risk and danger is dealing with fear and the belief that our fears are valid and our perceptions of risk match the reality. But as we will see in future installments, in our quest for perfection and a risk-free world, we are subject to sensational fear mongering. And once our fears are preyed upon, we are rendered incapable of resistance. We allow ourselves to be driven forward, immune from concern over the inevitable unintended consequences of our overzealous efforts.
Today, out of concern for our children’s safety, and in order to repel our fears that something bad could happen to them (a truly horrible thing to behold), we hold our children close. They no longer play outside unsupervised. They don’t ride bikes. We encourage indoor play, and if we do let them play outside, we buy play structures for our fenced back yards. Video games and other sedentary pastimes have become the norm. Combined with the altered 21st century diet, high in fast food and preprocessed, pre-prepared meals, the yield is an epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes. We are only beginning to see the true price of these massive societal changes. All brought about by our societal focus on risk management and driven by our fears and desires to make everything safer, better, healthier. But we have accomplished the opposite.
My blog will focus on issues like these and other topics involving liability risk management, safety, health, waste and expense. Do not expect a dose of conventional wisdom here. Safer, better, healthier are all valid pursuits. But we can’t get there by focusing simply on more and perfect. We have to focus on what is unreasonably risky and what is not; what works and what doesn’t; and what’s worth it and what, alas, is not. To do it right, we have to look at facts, observable phenomena and science. Belief, prejudice, predisposition, bias and tradition have their place. But not here. Our lives, our fortunes and those of our children are too precious to leave to the fancy of human nature, unmoderated by reason.
Come here to find an enlightened view of liability risk management. I pledge to make it readable and provocative but always well reasoned and (I hope) accurate. Feel free to comment or call me on it if you think I have it wrong. So, come back soon. Until then, I remain, sincerely,
The Bane of Your Existence