A Safety Third Philosophy in a Safety First World

Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from 2020 is that The Car Guy and I are a ‘Safety Third’ couple living in a strange (to us) new world that runs on a Safety First mentality.

…somewhere between my childhood and now, our society has gotten the idea that safety is of utmost importance. That if we kill enough germs and take sufficient safety precautions, our children can live in an illness-free, accident-free, pain-free utopia. Even if such an existence were possible, would it be desirable? Or healthy?
– Lisa E Betz –

That realization explains so much – why increasing numbers of people eagerly elect more restrictive governments; why students are so upset by ideas that counter their safety first world view; why mass media is increasingly just biased opinion journalism supporting this viewpoint and why social media is restricting what people can say and removing users who don’t follow the prescribed view.

The Covid Virus in a Safety First Culture

I have been perplexed by the almost universal reaction of world government in using lock downs. This did not seem to be useful risk management. The potential for collateral damage seemed immense.

The concept that best describes what Governments  have done is to apply a Homogeneous solution to what is a Heterogeneous situation. In other words, people are all being treated the same, though they are not all at the same risk of an adverse outcome.

In my province (Alberta, Canada) the average age of death is 82 years. Sixty-five percent of the deaths were in people over the age of 80; 84 percent were over the age of 70 with 86 percent having 2 or more comorbidities (health conditions.) Many of these people live in care homes and are best described as the elderly frail.

We know that the task of ensuring that the workers and guests in these facilities are not bringing the virus into the facility (are educated and equipped properly) is either not being done adequately, or cannot be achieved (possibly partly because the elderly frail were going to die soon anyway, with or without the virus to hasten their demise.)

Instead of addressing this issue, which would appear to be a major contributor to Covid deaths in our province, our government responded by locking us all down. Why? I think it is because it is easier to say (and sell) ‘Government is here to protect you’. With the application of  Fear, Safety is my personal responsibility, not yours’  becomes ‘We are All in this Together’. Peer pressure took over from there…

That phrase, “we are all in this together” made me think “No, actually, we are all in the same storm but our boats are sinking at different rates.” The phrase ‘be kind’ seemed to be a trite way of overlooking the actions of governments who locked people down, chose who was essential and with the sweep of a pen decided who was now ‘non-essential’ and demoted them to being nobody and nothing. And while I appreciate the work of those front line health care workers (we have a nurse in the family) – caring for the sick is, and always has been, their job. The difference between now and then is we’ve just become more aware of what their work entails.

A Moral Paradigm

It is astonishing to think, ten months into the coronavirus crisis, that our officials continue to apply the poison that is killing the patient, continue to run in the wrong direction and continue to miss the need to apply basic risk management tools…

Safety and certainty, tied to virtues like sustainability and the sanctity of life, create a moral paradigm that has become an essential element in leadership. For a policymaker seeking to be seen adopting a virtuous posture, precaution provides the perception of a caring concern and commitment to human values.

The precautionary principle is very attractive to regulators. All that a government authority needs to do is demand 100% safety and certainty (two emotional concepts) and then measure the response. Given that very little in reality is completely safe with certainty, most regulators pull precaution out of a hat to avoid having to make decisions in difficult, controversial situations.
– David Zaruk, The Risk Monger is an EU risk and science communications specialist. One of his discussions about Risk management is at: The Perversion of Precaution

Lack of Strong Evidence to Lock Downs

A study from Stanford University: Assessing mandatory stay- at- home and business closure effects on the spread of COVID- 19 concluded that:

In summary, we fail to find strong evidence supporting a role for more restrictive NPIs in the control of COVID in early 2020. We do not question the role of all public health interventions, or of coordinated communications about the epidemic, but we fail to find an additional benefit of stay- at- home orders and business closures. The data cannot fully exclude the possibility of some benefits. However, even if they exist, these benefits may not match the numerous harms
of these aggressive measures. More targeted public health interventions that more effectively reduce transmissions may be important for future epidemic control without the harms of highly restrictive measures.

Further Reading/Listening:

Mike Rowe (the ‘face’ of the TV show ‘Dirty Jobs’) runs the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, which awards scholarships to students pursuing a career in the skilled trades. He is, I think, one of the most common sense voices in the Americas today.

This is Mike Rowes editorial: I’m Not Ignoring Covid

Here is an interview Dave Rubin did with Mike Rowe Unintended Consequences of Putting Safety First

Here is an entertaining video describing why Mike decided that ‘Safety First’ wasn’t the safest way of looking at things.