Tango & Safety: are they related?

Italy is a country in which three people die on the job every day on average. A shameful massacre, which shows no sign of diminishing.

To this we can add a very high traffic accident mortality, largely due to a lack of responsibility in driving in relation to the use of substances such as drugs and alcohol (and cell phones). In other cases, the cause is serious carelessness towards elementary prudence rules or failure to comply with traffic rules.

I and other professionals have often discussed on these pages the “culture of safety” and we have underlined its serious lack in our country.

A few more reflections are urged on me by a recent personal episode, apparently completely marginal and insignificant, but we will see that it will not be so, at least in my opinion.

I embarked on an Argentine Tango course and, among the requirements necessary to enroll in the school, I was asked to have a medical check by a Sports Medicine specialist.

Having been an athlete in youth in disciplines requiring extensive annual checks, I was a little surprised that sports-level fitness was required for a quiet dance. The first reaction was to laugh about it, joking that perhaps it was for the notorious sensual charge of the dance, potentially risky in itself. But then I left willingly to the Sports Medicine specialist without further thought.

The amazement was instead renewed, giving rise to other considerations, when the doctor, while preparing for a conscientious and thorough visit, confided to me that he had had the same request for players of Bridge. In addition, he told me that on that occasion, feeling a little ridiculous to certify for the playing of cards, he had generally indicated “gymnastics” and then had to redo the certificates to very angry “athletes” who had been rejected by their association on the request of a specific “Bridge game” certificate.

Now: I imagine that the whole matter probably arises from the fact that the associations we belong to have insurance and this requires, for the prevention of future litigations, the assessment and certification of the good health of the members. Likewise, the association itself, in order to avoid disputes in the event of future illness of the members, has their health certified by a doctor, so that if a Bridge player is hit by a fatal heart attack after a badly played “trump”, the association is protected towards any claim of the heirs.

Two considerations arise from such situation that, in my opinion, make the episode significant and justify its sharing.

The first is that there seems to me to exist a substantial and general culture of “covering one’s back” regarding safety: as if being “compliant”, having “the certificate” was the essence of prevention and safety. It could seem obvious at this point to point the finger towards the insurance, or the association. But the reflection should instead be pushed further in my opinion, on the side of the dancer, or the card player, to remain in the examples above.

My impression is that, with this type of approach, there is a general relaxation following which the “certified” subject loses any sense of his/her responsibility for safety or health, as if having a third party certify a certain situation at a given moment could act as an all embracing supernatural protection.

Likewise, widening the comparison, such mentality seems to me to persist in those working situations where the culture of safety is “adherence to norms”, compliance, filling in forms and executing the “prescribed” training. In such mindset the sense that safety is above all a continuous personal responsibility, a request for attention, caution and responsibility, is lost.

To the “certified” dancer I should to say: “if you are not feeling well tonight, even if you have the certificate of good health, stay put and tomorrow, if you are still not well, get cured. You are primarily responsible for your health. ”

Which is the same that I should say to the drunk driver: “you have a driving license, true; but now you drank too much to be able to drive. You are a danger to yourself and others, take a cab. ”

Or to the worker, or to the foreman: “Ok, all the PPEs are there, the paths are traced, all the boxes on the form have been ticked, the machines are “up to standard”; but keep your eyes open and stay alert and focused. ”

No: responsibility is not so directly taken. Therefore, here we come to the second point: the subtle pleasure of giving others the responsibility of protecting our health and safety. Is it a reminiscence of the childish justification after a prank, to urge the parent’s indulgence “I didn’t do it on purpose!” With which we fantasized that the broken glass magically fixed itself and we could avoid punishment?

I remember years ago, a famous cardinal thundering during the homily at the funeral of three boys who died in a “Saturday night massacre”: “The State must stop the Saturday night massacres”. Yes, here we go: the State has to. As if the State had been at the wheel instead of an adult citizen, able, among other things, to elect the Government of that same State, who was voluntarily drunk and fully irresponsible.

Similar, to me, is the continuous request that someone else guarantees our safety, health, even immortality would be desired. Likewise, a “mission impossible” is expected from Medicine and Doctors, sometimes after leading a dissolute and unhealthy life. And if he doesn’t heal us properly, the lawsuit starts. 

Among other things, this is one of the reasons why we spend billions of € in costs for defensive medicine.

Some time ago I publicly reflected on the issue of the employer’s objective liability for accidents in our Law, after the case of Indian farmers who died in a sewage pit in an Italian province. Not only were some workers dead, but also the two employers, in an attempt to save the employees. Well: If the boss doesn’t save himself, who will save the boss? 

In short, I come out of this reflection with the ever deeply rooted conviction that we are seriously lacking a culture of “responsibility for safety” and health of ours and of others BEFORE and AFTER any certification or implementation of a mandatory standard.

Originally, I wrote this article thinking only of my Country, Italy. I thought that the problem might be specific, at least on this scale, of our Country, due to the typical mindset of our people, a little too good at improvisation and at “getting by” by vocation. However, feedback from places as far as Australia, made me think different: perhaps, a lack of a proper culture of safety is a more widespread disease than I thought originally: a more serious one.

The history of the Titanic is paradigmatic of this attitude: equipped according to current regulations, it carried lifejackets only for a third of passengers, even if the appropriate containers were already fit to receive many more when the regulations would require a higher number (obviously equivalent to the number of people on board). The ship, therefore, was “certified”, but: guess how many people survived the shipwreck?

So, like the proverbial Titanic orchestra, our safety and health, at work and in life, sinks in the illusion of being saved “aboard a certificate” or by a stamp of conformity.

Meanwhile, people are dying in a macabre dripping of blood and tears.