Word from Washington State, where the Coast Guard is apparently investigating whether the popular game Pokemon Go is creating a safety hazard at a public ferry. Players use their smartphone maps to track down “Pokestops,” virtual hotspots where the game designers have placed Pokemon characters. Unfortunately, a lot of Pokestops have been placed at ferry terminals, resulting in players wandering into unsafe areas, bypassing security rules and generally disrupting the operations, according to Maritime Executive magazine.
It raises a serious and fundamental question about safety and prevention. Is safety a matter of identifying hazards and then controlling them, the way they explain it in textbooks, or does it also include trying to anticipate every possible thing that humans can to to to under over or through the safety controls we put in place?
Ferry terminals barriers, fences and warning signs to protest passengers, but they are no match for a 22-year old with his nose in an I-phone wandering towards the edge of a pier. As Albert Einstein famously said “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
To address this we can go to one extreme of banning any activity in the name of safety. There is a famous story of a British man who has been mowing the grass by the roadside by his house in Wiltshire Council for 43 years, but was ordered to stop by the town council for fear that he might get hurt “whilst working on land that was not his responsibility.”
In general we tend to go to the other extreme. We develop safety plans and policies for a world where everyone behaves rationally and then we are surprised when they don’t. For example, there are plenty of signs, walls and barriers at the edges of the Grand Canyon. Yet, according to a book named Over The Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, two-to-three people fall from the rim and die every year. Causes include:
- Crossing retaining walls or guard rails
- Walking off the trail
- Jumping rock to rock or ledge to ledge
- Snow and ice
- Hiking at night
Would one more sign or barrier fix stupid? Doubtful.
In every day practice we focus on the physical aspects of safety – the flammability of a chemical or the force of a falling object – because those are the aspects that are the most predictable and can be controlled. We tend to shy away from the human factors, which turn out to be the least predictable aspects and, lets face it, uncontrollable. When Yogi Berra said that “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical,” he could have been talking about safety.
Or we could take the opposite approach, as outlined in a famous letter to the editor at the Arizona Republic by a man named Lawrence A. Bullis:
Every day, some new do-gooder is trying to save us from ourselves. We have so many laws and safety commissions to ensure our safety that it seems nearly impossible to have an accident. The problem is that we need accidents, and lots of them.
Danger is nature’s way of eliminating stupid people. Without safety, stupid people die in accidents. Since the dead don’t reproduce, our species becomes progressively more intelligent (or at least less stupid).
With safety, however well-intentioned it may be, we are devolving into half-witted mutants, because idiots, who by all rights should be dead, are spared from their rightful early graves and are free to breed even more imbeciles.
Let’s do away with safety and improve our species. Take up smoking. Jaywalk. Play with blasting caps. Swim right after a big meal. Stick something small in your ear. Take your choice of dangerous activity and do it with gusto. Future generations will thank you.