One of the bugbears of modern society in Britain was the overly paternalistic attitude towards Health and Safety. To my mind, reared as it was on the heaving decks of merchant navy ships in the 1960`s, it has taken away a sense of self-responsibility and replaced it with a labyrinthine network of legislation, inspectors and method-statements. Remove the individual’s habit of having to think for himself and you enter a world of automatons: programmed to perform, and soon unable to think the unthinkable, that is, “what if the method statement is wrong?” The image of a crowd plunging like Lemmings over a cliff where someone has inadvertently replaced the `Keep Away` sign with “Step this way”, was firmly fixed in my mind.
Those cares were soon to be replaced by other more immediate concerns when I closed a chapter of my life by departing British shores in order to begin an adventurous one in Brazil. You only have to attempt to walk down a street here in order to realise that a Brazilian adventure can very easily become a misadventure.
No, I am not referring to being assaulted, kidnapped, raped, murdered or becoming the victim of a hit-and-run traffic accident – although all of those fates are possible and in some areas depressingly probable. Dangers here come in many forms, some of which are much more prosaic and unexpected than others, and it is for that reason that I have chosen to write about them today.
Be warned, those of you who have been led to believe that pavements should be smooth and even with no tripping hazards more than 25mm in height! In Brazil it is perfectly possible to disappear into a pothole, find your way completely blocked, thus forcing you to step into traffic, or to enter an area beneath overhead activity involving heavy weights being swung precariously from equipment that would dazzle the eyes of a health and safety inspector with the profusion of its dangers.
I shall leave the subject of food hygiene for another day and march on to the little park, where children might expect to play without a care for anything other than the simple pleasures of childhood. Only to find the area thick with weeds which conceal broken glass, sharps and a variety of hazards associated with Brazilian wildlife. The equipment is, needless to say, “perigosso”.
For the student of perilous behaviour there can be no better place to observe extremes of risk-taking, than a Brazilian building site. Clad in shorts and flip-flops, men operate power tools free from the baggage of circuit breakers, goggles, gloves or masks. They wield great loads, in excess of 100kg, as if spinal vertebrae were made of nothing less than titanium. Climb heights and handle heavy objects there without any form of harness, tether or guard rail and no one below them is anything less than oblivious to the danger of falling objects.
Be glad therefore that Gringos are not expected to embark upon such activities without a safety net and a culture of responsible behaviour.
Be aware too that the unfortunate victims of accidents here are extremely unlikely to receive anything in the form of compensation for injuries sustained.
In Brazil the individual must take each and every risk that life here throws at them unflinchingly, if they are to remain employed, and when the monster threatens to devour them they must laugh into his face and carry on regardless.
And so it came to pass on a balmy Saturday afternoon that I was nonchalantly riding my motorcycle towards home when I cam upon a horse grazing the verge. “Nothing particularly unusual about that” I thought, but failed to notice the thin, taught cord around its neck stretched at chest-height across the road, straining as it was to reach the tender leaves just beyond reach on the opposite side of the road. All of this I noticed only in the moment before impact! Even at only 40 km/hr I was going to suffer a very nasty accident in about 5 microseconds unless….I ducked! Phew!
Maybe health and safety isn’t such a bad idea after all!