There is nothing that is safe from risk of injury or harm. Just living day to day carries a risk of death. You could drop down now from a heart attack or already have cancer. Some illness is random and terrible when it happens and although we know there are things to do to reduce the risk that is all you can do, reduce the risk. Safe really means that the risk of bad stuff is reduced enough for us to accept what we are about to do. Humans are terrible at understanding risk.
Every time we do something then we are accepting the risks associated with that action for the reward. If I go to the supermarket in normal times then I would drive there, I would come into close contact with a lot of other people and I would then drive home. Driving contains the largest risk there but I accept the risk for the convenience of getting to and from the supermarket easily. Danger of disease transmission isn’t something that normally enters our heads but being in a closed building with a few other hundred people who have touched all manner of surfaces with their dirty hands could prove to be risky behaviour if one of them had a dodgy disease [again, talking in normal times].
If I want to get on a train to somewhere then I hope that it won’t crash. That’s not a thought that goes through my head because generally train journeys in this country are quite safe. The risk of bad things happening is low and the reward is good – I get somewhere fast and normally quite relaxed. Flying is another one of those activities where we accept that the risk of death is acceptable for the convenience of travelling somewhere fast and far. We know that aircraft are safer than using the roads but we are more worried about flying because humans are terrible at understanding risk. 267 people died in passenger planes last year WORLDWIDE compared to 1870 killed on UK roads in the same time period.
I did a zip-line-wire-death-slide thing in Cornwall over a quarry lake. Was I worried about doing that? No. The risk was low. I was strapped in. It was run by a reputable company and I assumed that they had met all safety aspects of the set up. While some might worry about it and hopefully overcome their fears, those fears are unfounded. The risks have been reduced to a point where they are acceptable for the outcome. The zip-line was great fun. Last summer I had a flight in an RAF training helicopter. Now, ‘copters are the worst of transport methods for technical difficulties and flying characteristics. Was I worried? No. The risks were acceptable and it was great. The processes behind the RAF are exceptional and the risk was suitably low. I once had a flight over the 12 Apostles in Australia in a R44 [I think], again, the risks were low and I was trusting the regulations that existed for that country.
If we chose to do something then we should be balancing out the risks realistically with the rewards. We trust the regulations. We hope that when things do go wrong that the regulations change to take that into account. We trust that there are organisations out there making sure these things are done properly. This does contradict capitalism a little as companies will moan about “costs” but they get over it and their product gets the boost. There was a time that companies had to be told to include seatbelts in cars. It became law for three-point harnesses to be included in the front seats in 1968. The law to wear them was introduced many times in the 70s but failed [how the fuck?] and wearing front seatbelts eventually became compulsory in 1983. Rear seatbelts became compulsory equipment in 1986 and mandatory to wear from 1991. I mean, how did it take so long? What was the problem? Why are people so stupid?
I’m a qualified shooting range officer and I can tell you that the regulations are immense. The rules are all designed to make the activity as safe as possible. Is all risk removed? No. But the risk is manageable and acceptable. The most likely injury is a small cut to your hand where you are dealing with metal parts on a weapon, but even this is a small risk. I even take teenagers to a shooting range. It is safe. The regulations and environment are built and designed in such a way that the risk of injury or worse is reduced.
If the risks are mitigated through planning and regulation then activities are deemed acceptable. We spend our entire lives running mini-risk assessments in our heads all the time. I’m extrapolating from n=1 there, me. We think about the reality of risks although some people are overcome by the perception of risk and fail to complete some activities. When we talk about something being safe we really mean that the risks are reduced for us. The reward is worth it.