Everybody laughs at political correctness, “health & safety” and other bureaucratic bullshit, but nobody does anything about it.
It is important to note that it is now routine for officials periodically to decry the culture of risk-aversion surrounding children’s activities. National newspapers regularly run stories criticising the stupidity of schools that ban conker games in the playground.
Commentators frequently discuss the problems caused to children by the decline in outdoor play. And the phrase ‘health and safety’ is often used as a pejorative shorthand for stupid rules that prevent people from doing what they should, or want, to do. (…)
More importantly, the idea that children’s safety is itself a quasi-moral value has become deeply culturally ingrained, with the result that adults obsessively evaluate their children’s activities with reference to the levels of risk involved. The sacralisation of safety encourages an absolutist standard of child protection. It also encourages the expansion of the meaning of safety, which in turn reduces any tolerance for children enjoying unregulated experiences.
The backlash against ‘health-and-safety gone mad’ contains some spirited insights, and there have been thoughtful suggestions from some quarters about how policymakers might go about supporting a culture of healthy risk-taking.
Ultimately, however, this backlash is unlikely to alter the premise of existing policy. Why?
Because there are powerful cultural forces that counteract common sense on this subject. ‘Better safe than sorry’ has become the fundamental principle of public life.