In Stewart Lee’s first series of his Comedy Vehicle, he made the point that a lot of people seem to be getting quite confused between Health and Safety and Political Correctness. I was exposed to this the other night in a taxi. I know you should never take what taxi drivers say to heart, but sometimes it is priceless. I am thinking of pitching to the TV channel Dave a show called ‘Cab drivers say the funniest things’.
It was icy on the night and the driver was getting worked up on his favourite subject of pensions. He’d already had a few attempts at the subject. Now he said, “see this ice? You see all of this ice right? Why aren’t they gritting the pavements? Why do you think they aren’t gritting the pavements? I’ll tell you why. They’ll grit them up here next to the shops. They’ll grit them in front of the shops alright, but not outside your house, oh no. You know why? Health and safety. They can’t grit outside your house can they? ‘Cos if they grit outside your house and they miss one little bit of ice and you find it, you can sue ’em if you slip. But outside shops it’s different because of all the laws. Anyway as long as they all get their pensions I guess it’s all right. I mean, that’s all they’re worried about, not your ice.”
I didn’t really know what to say about this, so I just kind of mumbled something vaguely positive-sounding and hoped for the subject to change. My guess is that they don’t have the money to pay for gritting your pavement. But the companies pay business rates and so get preferential treatment. But… But… There is a strange kernel of interest to derive from all of this.
A lot of people seem to not like health and safety regulations. Partly because they only seem to restrict you. And you don’t notice the times when they save you. It’s like computer downtime or train delays. People’s perceptions magnify the memories of when things go wrong because things being normal is quite literally unremarkable. So the rules seem pointless.
So people say, “wouldn’t it be better if people were to take responsibility for themselves?”. The people who say this are also the kind of people who are sure that all other drivers are maniacs. They say, “people should take responsibility for themselves” as though they haven’t met other people.
There is, I suppose, a point to part of their argument and it is a bit like the grit argument. If you know the whole pavement is icy, you know you have to be careful. If it looks gritted and clear but little bit of ice remains, you might not be as careful and it might be more dangerous. People posit arguments like this about health and safety all the time and I’m pretty sure I see a logical fallacy here.
You want to make people more aware that things are scary so that they take responsibility. That means you already don’t think they can take responsibility for themselves.