When I was first exposed to real danger, when working in an environment where your life was seriously at risk if you did not obey the rules; most of which were not written down, but learnt, off by heart, from real people who knew of those dangers by learning them from their predecessors: you learned the rules fast. At the age of 21, I was placed in charge of equipment worth millions, and more importantly, of people’s lives who used that equipment, when on board British Merchant Ships. If the Safety devices protecting an alternator, an engine, or a winch, were not tested and found satisfactory, someone could die, or be badly injured, and that death or injury would be placed at your feet, and you would be asked the reasons. When my friend the radio operator wished to have me check out the rotating radar aerial, I made damn certain that the control and power fuses for the rotating aerial were locked away until I came down from the forty-foot-high mast, so that no clown was able to switch the damn thing on, and send the aerial slicing into my back.
Similarly, when I was running the installation and engineering of a huge and complex electrical system for a South African hospital, it was my ‘Safety Document’ which was the rule for all switching and cabling connections and changes. Everything was written down, and everyone signed, so that, again, everyone was aware that eleven thousand volts; a truly lethal voltage; would not be even close to a human being, when work was underway. We were professionals, doing a dangerous job, and ‘Health & Safety’ was paramount.
Health & Safety was always high in our minds when working in the English water industry, because each rule, each prohibition or passage, had been generated and established by professionals, for professionals. Two men died, over a weekend, in the tunnel feeding the huge, deep pumping station I was in charge of, when they failed to obey the rules. The 3 metre-dia. tunnel planned and built to carry water for London, ended in a large metal chamber, where the pump inlets would push the water up into the domestic zones of Northern London; and this chamber had been sealed for three months. The rules stated that, if a sealed chamber was breached or opened, the first item was to drop a gas detector, on the end of a rope, into the newly-opened space, to check if the atmosphere was stable, or if any noxious gases or major changes, hazardous to humans had occurred. Plain, straight forward; common-sense! But our two heroes knew so much better than scores of highly-experienced and qualified engineers; so they simply climbed down into the chamber and tunnel: and there they died, as there was less than two-percent oxygen in the tunnel and chamber, as the atmosphere had simply been denatured, nitrogen had displaced all the breathable air, and they died from a bad attack of ‘stupidity’!
Terry Waite, the enormously self-important Anglican envoy who flew to Beirut because he just ‘knew’ that his contacts in Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the ordinary Beirut Arabic slime underground could be implicitly trusted. He has been assured that all was ‘safe’! So he climbed on to a pick-up truck crammed with armed terrorists, again trusting them all because they were all muslim, and therefore completely ‘trustworthy’: and promptly disappeared for five years. Tied to radiators, hidden in underground cells, his only contact was another hostage; until he was released after a huge ransom was paid. ‘Trustworthy’ is as trustworthy does.
Similarly, ‘humanitarian volunteer’ Alan Hemming was travelling in an ‘Aid convoy’ into the darkest place on this Earth, war-torn Syria, because he ‘wanted to help’; ‘wanted to make a difference’, and all the other bullshit phrases used to attempt to excuse the actions of a man who just ‘knew’ that he would be safe, ‘knew’ that he would compete his mission; ‘knew’ that everyone else was wrong, and he alone was ‘right’: going into a muslim maelstrom where no-one is or can be trusted, because, in the end, they all hate us, they call us ‘infidel’, they call us ‘kuffar’.
And now his bereaved family has the audacity to state that the British government should and could have done more to rescue this idiot, should have risked the lives of soldiers, because the family felt that, as a ‘volunteer’, he should have been given special treatment; despite his ignoring every knowledgeable Government Department stating the bleedingly obvious, that Syria was a no-go place, that Europeans, no matter how well-meaning, no matter how well-intentioned; simply should not be there, because their lives would be at risk the second they drove across the border.
I say, save the ink, don’t sign the books of condolence, don’t buy the silly bunches of flowers, don’t condemn the Government for its immobility; instead accept that Alan Hemming was a well-meaning but foolish man, who ignored the warnings of the real Health & Safety Brigade; who gambled with his life and placed his belief on black, but watched the wheel of life’s spin land on blood red instead!