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Health and safety culture creates unnecessary fears

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There was a time I considered myself graceful but last Sunday another slice of ever shrinking self worth peeled itself from me and ran off to attach itself to a ballet dancer or a gymnast, or pretty much anyone who can walk without having to really concentrate.

I was on the allotment, surveying all that we had grown, when I put my foot in a divot and went down like giraffe on a trampoline. Except I didn’t bounce back up again. I sort of lay in a crumpled heap saying “Ouch” really loudly while friends and family pointed and laughed.
“It’s not that funny,” I mumbled. “Slapstick never is.”

“Oh it is,” said my wife. “I mean, I wouldn’t choose to watch it on TV but, when my husband does it, it’s almost like you are giving me a small gift of laughter.”

“Fine,” I mumbled. “That’s your Christmas present taken care of.”

Of course, I soldiered on, despite the searing pain. Yes, I thought it might be broken but by this time someone had bought chips and opened wine. I decided on inspection - it was a bit purple and it hurt when my wife kicked it - that it was a sprain. A few days later, it was fine. I will watch out for divots but mostly I must remember that the next time I fall over I really ought to do it more elegantly.

Anyway, what followed was a series of campfire stories about injuries we had suffered. We compared bee stings, twisted knees, cracked ribs, black eyes, dog bites and really big splinters along with the bizarre treatments (a friend having “treatment” for a jellyfish sting on her buttock on a beach in Majorca - I’m not convinced by the evidence base).

‘We compared bee stings, cracked ribs, dog bites and really big splinters along with a bizarre treatment for a jellyfish sting on the buttock in Majorca’

We found we collected minor injuries as stories or as acts of comedy. Most people were quite proud of their scars, or certainly amused.
I mention this in the light of two news reports that appeared simultaneously. One said that “children are exercising less”, with the British Heart Foundation claiming that fewer than one in eight children are exercising for the recommended one hour a day. Beside this, doctors were warning that “parents are ignoring trampoline safety”. This latter health and safety concern was leading to an increase in fractures, cuts and bruises. Quick! We must entice the kids inside with cake where they will be safe.

Is it me, or are we giving people contradictory messages? On the one hand, we want them to play but, on the other, we have institutionalised what used to be a whispered motherly “be careful out there” to such an extent that we have become risk phobic. It’s hard to know whether this level of protection is born of a fear of real harm or a health and safety culture driven by targets to reduce minor injuries and their cost.

Goodness knows I don’t want to seem reckless. Apart from anything else, injuries can hurt. But no amount of campaigning is going to eradicate bruising. Might our time not be better spent encouraging people to accept it with a shrug rather than spend their life trying to avoid being bruised? Ultimately isn’t that a healthier option?

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