Safety first? Holiday hazards, from food hygiene to adventure activities

Any trip to a foreign country these days implies carrying out some sort of risk assessment, especially for those travelling with children. Westerners in particular are accustomed to strict control of many areas of our lives; from food hygiene to safety standards in sporting activities, travel operators, and the like. In recent years what some see as an 'intrusion' into our private lives and freedom of choice has been steadily strengthening - and as usual, the good old US of A has got the ball rolling, in at least one respect. Ambulance chasing lawyers and ludicrously high compensation payments awarded by the courts are greatly responsible for this trend. The blame game - shifting personal responsibility whenever possible to a third party - has reached nonsensical levels. (Suing McDonalds for millions because the plaintiff burned his tongue on a cup of hot coffee is a typical example).

Of course it makes sense to monitor standards, otherwise unscrupulous commercial enterprises would be exploiting us at every opportunity. But where to draw the line? A comment about my last blog on food safety in Thailand, by US-based Mr. Nighttime, got me thinking about the three countries I know best... the UK, Thailand and France.

Over the years in the UK we've seen increasing 'interference' by government standards agencies. Teachers are now afraid to volunteer for school trip supervisory roles because of the danger of being held liable if little Jimmy trips up and grazes his knee. Following the American lead, compensation lawyers now bombard the airways with their advertisements, encouraging people to claim for the tiniest mishap. Quango agencies are breeding like rabbits, falling over themselves to invent ever more complicated rules and regulations for businesses to adhere to. Small companies struggle to find the time and resources to conform to the ever-expanding requirements.

This youngster was more interested in chewing on the picnic basket lid than on the picnic or picnickers...

In Thailand? The problem isn't so much whether or not the controls exist in the first place (they do, even if they are rather basic in most areas), but rather whether they are being adhered to. Worse still, it's often a case of who has paid whom to avoid having to conform to costly and sometimes vital safety requirements. So it's an ad hoc system, one where you can never feel completely reassured. There are rules and regulations governing fire hazard prevention in Bangkok night clubs for example, but there are major doubts as to how many - if any - were actually being enforced in the New Year's Eve disaster where so many died.

Click on the thumbnail photos to see full-size images...

Back at the Tiger Temple near Bangkok, very young and adolescent tigers were free to wander at will, but it was the sight of diminutive Thais with fully-grown adult cats on a lead that made me feel a touch uneasy!

France, as usual, is lagging behind the UK and US. If you're stupid enough to go skiing off piste on your own in dangerous conditions without the necessary Arva beacon and other avalanche gear, then it's simply 'tough luck' if you meet a gruesome end. Not the same as in the US, where the ski areas can be held responsible, and as a result out-of-bounds skiing is effectively banned. And in this Alpine adventure park near Bourg Saint Maurice (see photos below), beyond some basic initial instruction on keeping the safety harness clipped on at all times, there is no supervision whatsoever as you travel through the tree tops. A business run in the same manner in the UK would be out of the question! I have to say I like this attitude in some ways. It encourages the sort of self-reliance that seems to be on its way out in the Anglo-Saxon nanny states, forces you to take responsibility for your own actions, while nonetheless respecting fundamental safety requirements.

My then thirteen year-old, without a care in the world... unlike her dad at the time.

Any readers have any thoughts on this? Mixed feelings, I'm just not sure how a happy medium can be attained, or based on what criteria it should be arrived at in the first place. On balance though, I would say that the French approach does it for me...

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Smorg said...

I discovered your blog through Fabletoo's Brit in Bangkok and have been loving reading it since. :o)

I'm with you on France's 'do it at your own risk and responsibility' mode. Wish we could have more of that in America, where people are so used to being able to blame someone else for the result of their own stupid actions (and probably make good money out of it by suing... and it drives the price of everything up so high because everyone here is so afraid of being sued!)... That tree top hopping thing sure looks like fun!!


The FrogBlogger said...

Hi Smorg, thanks for dropping by! Yes, 'common sense', taking responsibility for our own actions, something fewer and fewer people are inclined to do these days whenever it's possible to shift the blame to someone else. Makes you wonder how future generations raised in this way are going to be able to run the world, when things get tough!

Anonymous said...

You are good! I'm 13 and even I personally find this interesting. I'm going on a trip to france soon and this made me think alot :)