Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Not-So-Good Idea in Principle

John Nesbitt has a guest opinion entitled "The Dangers of Safety Tips" that seems a tad overreaching to me. The stated premise: fireworks are inherently dangerous, and a national ban should be enacted. That in and of itself might be defensible, but the article goes well beyond that:
When people read the safety tips, they assume that street fireworks can be used safely. For example, one tip admonishes the consumer to read the "instructions" carefully. Careful reading will not mitigate faulty foreign fireworks getting past U.S. Customs at our ports and into our retail stores. Faulty fireworks cause injuries.

Another tip says store fireworks in a dry, cool place. This presumes that there are no curious, energetic, imitative children who will find their way to dry, cool places and proceed to light fireworks -- just like the adults do. The result: fireworks injuries, fires and deaths.

The best fireworks news for the American consumer is last year's formation of the "Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks" by 21 of the nation's foremost professional organizations. The alliance includes the national academies, associations and societies representing arson investigators, burn specialists, emergency physicians, emergency nurses, family physicians, fire chiefs, firefighters, fire marshals, fire protection, hand surgereons, metropolitan fire chiefs, ophthalmology, pediatrics, plastic surgeons, prevent blindness, public health physicians and safety officers.

According to the alliance, the simple facts are:

1. Do not play with, or handle, or use in any way combustible material, lighters and matches, toxic substances, etc. -- including all fireworks and sparklers.

2. Do not buy, manufacture, store, transport or sell fireworks.

3. Attend only authorized, legal, public displays conducted by trained, certified, professional personnel -- and exercise caution even at public displays.

Let's get this straight: because safety tips can't completely obviate all dangers of a product, they are useless, rendering the product inherently dangerous and leaving no option but a total ban? Wouldn't that constitute a call for removal from the market for all knives, medications, ladders, and five-gallon buckets? After all, no amount of warnings can actually physically preclude children from cutting themselves with knives, eating a bunch of chocolately-tasting laxatives, climbing on and falling off a ladder, or upending their little selves into a bucket and drowning. And what's with "Do not . . . use in any way combustible material, lighters and matches, toxic substances, etc. . . . " I guess scented candles are right out.

While the principle of "safety first" is a seductive one - it's difficult to argue that you're against protecting children from potential danger - it is impossible to remove all risk from life. We could, in theory, 'rubberize the world': make all sidewalks of a bouncy material, require helmets and elbow/knee pads for everyday life, remove all sources of standing water, and require daily trips to the pharmacy to dispense our medications instead of keeping them in our homes. But what kind of life would that be? I'll take my steak medium-rare, my fireworks loud and sparkly, and my bicycle rides helmetless with the wind in my hair, thanks. I guess that makes me a rebel. Who'd a thunk it?

No comments: