Are we suffering from mollycoddilitis?

Posted by Jon Garside on 15/03/2008

It's unlikely you're on the BMC website if risk and adventure were not integral to your life. An article from the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health draws some interesting conclusions on the effect of risk aversion to society.

In his article Are we suffereing from mollycoddlitis?, personal injury lawyer Jerome Mayhew argues that exposing children to adventure and well-managed risk benefits society. Conversely, he believes, removing opportunities for children to develop risk management skills can lead to them playing in uncontrolled environments with greater risks and will have a detrimental effect on society as a whole.

Society's view on risk has been changing for a number of years, and Mayhew sees the judiciary reflecting this in their judgements, even though negligence law has not altered. He believes that government changes in the litigation process has led to the 'encouragement ..... of the settlement of potential claims prior to the issue of proceedings.'

There is no recorded increase in accident cases between 2000/2001 and 2002/2003. However, this may well not paint the full picture, as government collects no data for claims settled out of court.
 

Mayhew foresees a continued increase in insurance costs or removal of cover altogether. 'Health and safety' is a popular whipping boy within the media, portrayed as faceless bureaucrats denying us all from having a bit of good old fashioned fun. But delve a little deeper into these stories, and it soon becomes apparent that increased insurance costs are often the true cause for the demise of the centuries old pancake race.

This is not to say that insurance companies are to blame. They specialise in costing risk, a complicated business that includes assumptions on the risks that society accepts as reasonable. However, if society shifts its view, wanting to accept less risk and passing the burden elsewhere, then insurance companies are likely to increase premiums if they are expected to pick up the tab.

Mayhew also has worries about the effect of standardisation within the play and adventure sectors, and from his background in high ropes courses relates an incident (with echoes to the Working at Height directive) in which a European standard was almost developed without consulting the British sector of the high ropes industry. The problem was compounded by serious communication problems between the trade bodies, the British Standards Institute, and European bodies.

The article also mentions the Better Regulation Commission and their publication, Risk, Responsibility, Regulation: Whose Risk is it anyway? which interestingly features an ice climber on the front cover.

Their report states, "It would often appear that we would rather events not happen than for them to risk causing hurt, for volunteers not to be used, than to be exposed to any danger, and for opportunities to be missed rather than exploited. This does not sit comfortably with government commitments to increase people’s responsibility and choice. The consequences of the current trend range from the bizarre to the worrying."

So, are there any positives to take away from all of this?

The recent Compensation Act (2006) begins with a clause outlining the 'Deterrent effect of potential liability.'

A court considering a claim in negligence or breach of statutory duty may, in determining whether the defendant should have taken particular steps to meet a standard of care (whether by taking precautions against a risk or otherwise), have regard to whether a requirement to take those steps might

(a) prevent a desirable activity from being undertaken at all, to a particular extent or in a particular way, or

(b) discourage persons from undertaking functions in connection with a desirable activity.


This basically means that it is not reasonable to remove all elements of risk from 'desirable activities', a strange definition including outdoor activities. Good news for BMC clubs and volunteers working in this field.

An organisation called the Campaign for Adventure seeks 'to influence attitudes towards hazard and risk, by fostering wider recognition that chance, uncertainty, hazard and risk are inescapable dimensions of human experience.' With Prince Philip, Chris Bonington and many parliamentarians amongst its supporters then maybe the future is not so bleak as some may think.

And if you fancy getting adventurous with like minded folk, then get active during Outdoor Adventure Week.



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