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Too much safety

Somewhere in Britain there is a group of civil servants who are responsible for safety standards for gas appliances. They are pretty active, and introduce newly-tightened regulations almost every year. This means that people working with gas constantly have to get retrained and recertified, to make sure they are up-to-date with all the latest precautions.

Since gas is an explosive that is pumped into most homes, it's important to make sure it's safe, of course. But hang on just a sec : we've been using it for domestic heating and cooking for well over 100 years. Surely we must know exactly what we are doing with it by now? So why do we need to keep changing the regulations?

Put that to the regulators, and they will talk gravely about the importance of Safety, one of the gods of modern life. But actually, it's more about keeping them in a job. They have been making up new safety regulations for more than a century : if they haven't got it right by now, they never will. So let's save the country some money, and sack them.

It's not just their generous salaries and pensions we'd be saving. All that retraining and recertifying makes a gas fitter less productive, because he is working fewer hours, which means the gas company needs more of them. Which makes the price they charge us more expensive, driving up everyone's costs, which we recover by putting up our own prices, effectively, which in turn makes everything that little bit more expensive for everyone.

Of course, if we did sack the gas safety regulations revisers, there would be lots of media briefings about how the heartless government was taking chances with people's lives and deliberately risking the poisoning of little old ladies. But that would soon die down, because as I say, the existing regulations are already extremely tight. A review once a decade or so would be plenty.

No-one would die, though you can bet the civil servants, fighting for their cushy jobs, would produce all kinds of statistics to say they might. The fact is, for quite some time now they have been piling extra precautions on top of one another, and the risks they are trying to protect us from are down to tiny fractions of one percent. That's all very well, but nothing in life is absolutely 100% safe, and we can't afford it. Governments (not just ours) have got into the extremely bad habit of borrowing extra money, every single year, to enable them to spend more than they raise in tax. This is not sustainable, and cuts have to be made. What do we need more : civil servants behind desks, dreaming up ever more fanciful ways that we might gas ourselves or blow ourselves up, or nurses, teachers and firemen?


Copyright © Jon Storm 2011