Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Health and safety should have gone mad

I share with many a concern that we are over-protective of children these days. Some people won't even let their children camp out in the back garden in case an evil lurker gets them. Statistically this is ludicrous. They are much more in danger every time you take them near a road. However, we shouldn't totally ignore risk either. I have to confess I did something with a group of teenagers many years ago that still gives me a cold shudder when I contemplate the dangers involved.

I had done some caving while at university, and when the youth club I helped run went on an adventure holiday (this was a few years later) I offered to lead a caving experience. This was straight caving, not potholing, I should stress. I picked three caves out of a guide (I think it was the one illustrated), all easy.

The first was very straightforward. A little narrow in places, but basically a straightforward walk into the hillside. The most exciting thing was getting there by car as it meant going up a 1 in 4 hill - the car really felt as if it was going to flip over backwards, most unnerving.

The second could only be accessed by walking up a stream bed, and had a stream running through it (very like the one on the book cover) for greater interest. But the third was the icing on the cake. It had two great caving experiences. After the entrance there was a crawl, sufficiently shallow that you had to have your arms ahead of you and your head on its side. It's really quite something when you are in contact with rock above and below in a person sandwich. After about 10 or 15 feet of crawl it opened up into a huge cavern - maybe 30 feet high and 100 feet wide - the contrast was stunning.

But access to this one was a pain. It involved a long trek from the nearest road, often with very little in the way of paths. To make it more interesting, when I did a recce beforehand, I discovered a shaft quite near the route. It was just a big hole in the ground, protected by walls maybe two feet high. I dropped a pebble down and counted about 5 seconds before it hit the ground. So I knew to keep my little band well away from this. However, on the first real visit with a group of teenagers I got lost.

I followed what I thought was the right route and ended up on a little path that seemed to be going the right way. Eventually, the destination was in sight - but I realized with horror that to get to it we would have to traverse a bit of path with a steep cliff on the left and a 100 foot+ drop on the right. At its narrowest, the path was about a foot wide, and was crumbly soil, sloping towards the chasm.

I should have backtracked - but it would have taken us about an hour to get back on the main track. I decided to take them along the path.

We made it - obviously - but when I look back it was just so dangerous, it scares me even now. Before I took the next group I made sure I had a safe route. But that stomach churning memory of that crumbly little path over the drop makes me realize - health and safety isn't always a bad thing.

3 comments:

  1. Well, I think all this is incredibly admirable, Brian, for all sorts of reasons...one of the main ones being that human sandwich thing. I don't think I could do that - it sounds much too claustrophobic.

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  2. Some did find it claustrophobic, Clare - then you got the wonderful constrast with the huge cavern.

    Funnily, I'm claustrophobic with crowds of people, but I don't mind being in tight spaces. There was just something mildly amazing about knowing how it felt to be a fossil...

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  3. I agree that the world has gone a bit crazy with health and safety, but I think the main reason is the fear of being sued. With so many no win no fee compensation lawyers, it's never been easier for people to sue one another. Now when an accident occurs, people think how much money they could make from it and who to blame. It's sad because of the effect it has had on the world and our children, but I think we have to get used to it as I can't see it changing for the foreseeable future.

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