Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cotton Wool

Look, let’s be frank here: it’s possible to be sympathetic with a parent who’s lost their child and at the same time realise they’re wrong about the lessons they think need to be learned from their death.

Emily Jordan’s death in a riverboarding accident in the Kawarau River was a tragedy, no question.  Her death, and the deaths of other adventure tourists like the Elim College students killed while “canyoning” looked on the face of it to be the result of some serious incompetence, that’s true.

But for her family to insist that all of this country’s adventure tourism operators be tarred with the brush of  other’s incompetence is an unjustified step too far – and their insistence that all of this country’s adventure tourism operators immediately be required to adopt the standards of British adventure tourism operators is frankly stupid.

As everyone knows who’s spent any time there, British folk grow up so enmired in safety regulations that it’s akin to spending life in cotton wool, with safety somehow “guaranteed” by government fiat. It doesn’t stop accidents happening, however, often because it’s always assumed that all risk has been removed – an assumption that itself creates a risk (as Eric Crampton’s masthead ‘points’ out), especially when you get into a place that hasn’t got a safety fence protecting every steep drop in the country.

And it’s this absence of risk in the regulated modern world that makes risky adventures so popular, isn’t it – and adventure tourism in unspoiled New Zealand so much fun.  So much time spent in cotton wool increases the need for risky holidays in wild and “un-tamed” locations – to have a bungy-jumping, paragliding, river-boarding, jet-boating, canyoning, skiing, kite-surfing, adrenalin-pumping blast of a time that’s utterly different to the grey cotton wool of your every-day-- but not quite the ability to handle all of the risk involved in these adventures, or to properly assess it.

As they say, the net effect of forbidding folly (or trying to) is to fill the world with fools.

You’re not going to solve that with more cotton wool.  You’re not going to bring back self-responsibility with more regulation. What you will do however is produce an even greater false sense of security than there is now, and destroy the very innovation and self-responsibility that produced most of these adventures that people love to leap into.

AJ Hackett didn’t turn a death-defying Melanesian ritual into the safest adventure sport in the world (over 2,000,000 jumps without a single death) because regulation told him how to do that.  He did it because he wanted to earn money doing something he loved, and an adventure company with a reputation for not killing people does that better than any licence you can buy.

5 Comments:

Blogger Clunking Fist said...

Amen.

9/22/2009 01:22:00 pm  
Blogger Ruth said...

As they say, the net effect of forbidding folly (or trying to) is to fill the world with fools.

You’re not going to solve that with more cotton wool. You’re not going to bring back self-responsibility with more regulation.


Quite right. Another problem is that there is no self-responsibility when tragedy happens. It's never anyone's fault.It's always a 'procedural failure' or similar.

The Elim tragedy is a case in point - someone WAS responsible. The guide refused to attend restorative justice meetings with the relatives and high-tailed it out of the country like a rat up a drainpipe, citing she was "trying to put her life back together".
Meanwhile 7 people are still dead.

9/22/2009 02:10:00 pm  
Blogger Clunking Fist said...

I like the way that hospitals are exempt: some care, no responsibility.

9/22/2009 05:37:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

"The Elim tragedy is a case in point - someone WAS responsible. The guide refused to attend restorative justice meetings with the relatives and high-tailed it out of the country like a rat up a drainpipe, citing she was "trying to put her life back together".
Meanwhile 7 people are still dead.
"

Precisely. Same thing with the Cave Creek tragedy. "No one" was responsible. That's just a travesty.

Yet these are two times when justice should kick in - kick in on the principle that those responsible need to do what little they can to restore something to victims' families. Yet on these things the justice system is apparently entirely silent.

9/22/2009 06:04:00 pm  
Anonymous LGM said...

Shit-oh-dear!

These are meant to be adventures. There is danger and risk. That's the point. Otherwise why bother?

Sometimes dangerous and risky things can turn out to be not exactly as hoped or expected. That's the nature of doing dangerous and risky activities. They ARE dangerous and risky. SOMETIMES that means unsafe. Sometimes that means a close shave. Sometimes it means an incident. Sometimes it means injury or death.

Shit happens.

Get over it.

LGM

9/22/2009 06:12:00 pm  

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