Saturday, April 30, 2005

I shall now pontificate on Safety

Yes, the with-a-capital-S Safety. That concept that is being taken to an extent that may do us all in eventually.

I realized I didn't know the actual dictionary definition of the word, so I looked it up and found
"the condition of being safe from undergoing or causing hurt, injury, or loss"
followed by
"a device (as on a weapon or a machine) designed to prevent inadvertent or hazardous operation".

Let's take the first one. It's a good idea to keep people 'safe'; the problem is with the extent it's being taken to. All too often it's not good enough to put a safety feature on a piece of machinery. You have to try to foresee every single thing, including the stupid and unthinking, that someone might possibly do that would allow someone to get hurt. Which is both damn near impossible, and can make it hard to actually use the equipment. This is related to the idiot warnings you find on just about everything. Some morons decide to pick up a running lawn mower and use it to trim the hedge; they slip and take various injuries and sue the lawnmower company for not having a sticker on the mower telling them that this is a bad idea. They can't figure out this is a bad idea on their own?!? But it doesn't matter that they got hurt by doing something self-evidently stupid; the company should have foreseen that they would and put a warning on the mower! Never mind that these idiots would have done it anyway, "You should have put a sticker on the mower deck" says the court while awarding the morons a pile of money. We've gotten away from the idea of "I will make a machine that will efficiently do a job, and I will use good materials and design; using it in a safe manner is in your hands". Instead, thanks to lawyers, idiots and judges we have "It doesn't matter how well it is designed and made, if someone does something dumb with it it's your fault for not somehow magically preventing harm from occurring. Which drives up the price- insurance and legal costs, you know- and leads to machinery being made in ways that either makes it a pain to use, or makes it harder to use. All in the name of 'Safety'.

Let's take that 'keep people safe' idea further. How 'safe'? and what exactly do you mean by that? I've seen proposals to ban or restrict ownership of or greatly modify everything from motor vehicles to bicycles to knives to guns to... the list goes on and on. All by people who care about 'safety'(and supposedly crime control in some cases; with some things they seem to go together in some minds) and have little concern for actually getting things done. Many tools are inherently dangerous: a knife of any kind without a sharp edge and/or point is useless; a saw made so 'safe' that you cannot cut yourself on it may not be useable, and so forth. Up until fairly recently it's been accepted that use of many things carries risk, and it's up to you to take care with it, but over the last while far too many people expect someone else to think for them and keep them 'safe'. This has basically resulted in people standing up in court and saying "I don't have any working brain cells and cannot think, so it was up to the X company to think for me and keep me from getting hurt". I personally would be too damn embarrassed to stand up in court and say "How was I to know that if I picked up a running mower, I might get hurt?", but get a lawyer and dollar signs in someone's mind, and lots of people do it. And it raises costs for everyone.

This hooks into the 'prevention principle' that's a big thing with the European Union; that you should prove something is completely safe before it can be sold/used. That is, without doubt, one of the most idiot ideas to come down the road. Everything has dangers. Every chemical, every tool, every method of conveyance. All of it. Chemicals that keep bugs out of our food, and help cure diseases, that help aches and pains; tools that build civilization; ideas themselves; ALL of them have dangers. Make yourself 'safe' from them, and you'll be back in a hovel with wolves prowling the edges of the fields, wondering if there isn't a better way to live. But there are a bunch of people, some simply well-meaning but some actively using this as a way of controlling people, who are pushing it. Hard.

How about the second part, "a device (as on a weapon or a machine) designed to prevent inadvertent or hazardous operation"? This has led to things like the 'safety button' on my circular saw that has to be depressed to turn it on. It used to be that you could, once you had it on, push a button that would lock it 'on' so you could move your hand around as needed, but that wasn't 'safe' enough. So if you shift your hand around the damn thing may turn off. Pain in the ass at times.

It's also leading the 'safe gun' concept that a bunch of people are pushing. I'll say this right off: I will not cooperate with this crap. I have no intention of being restricted to a firearm that will only operate for me, or only if I'm wearing my magic bracelet or whatever. Besides the idiocy of having a weapon that will not operate unless you go through a proper 'safe operating' sequence or wear the right devices, it's a direct threat to ownership of arms. If you are only allowed to have a gun that only you can fire, you can't take your kids to the range with it, because they can't fire it. At best, it would mean having some government minion 'approve' you adding your kid's information into the database on the firearm; at worst it means said minion says 'no', and you're screwed. And if you work around it, you've violated the law and they'll take your arms away if they find out, because you cannot be trusted to 'safely' use said arms- in their opinion. And since they control the law, their's is the opinion that counts, isn't it?

I'll point out a further thing I read somewhere: a gun with 'smart' tech built in needs a battery. So the government, for 'safety' and crime control, dictates what battery will be used. Which means they can control the supply, and if you can't get the battery, for whatever reason, you are screwed.

Not to mention that the simple fact that if you need a gun, it will often be under the worst circumstances, when you may not have your magic bracelet available. Or may have crud on your hand that would prevent the sensors from confirming you are the authorized user for the firearm, and so forth. Which is why all of the 'smart gun' legislation I've heard of exempts law enforcement from complying. It's not good enough for the minions of the state, but quite good enough to force on the peasants.

It all boils down to people being held responsible for their own actions, which is why I don't know if it'll get better or not. There's a lot of momentum toward people not being responsible for themselves, and halting or reversing it- even a little bit- is iffy. If it continues the way it has, we'll all be so damn safe that we can't do anything.


og said...

One of the most important issues in automation is safety, and one of the ways you deal with safety is to assume people will get hurt; what we do is called 'risk assessmant", in which you do what you can to mitigate risk: Guard against large, life threatening risk, and establish procedures to help prevent it, and do the best that can be done for lesser risks. Sounds harsh, but using these risk assessment procedures has taken workplace incident down almost 90% in our systems.

Firehand said...

Realistically, that's about what I'd hope for. You can't make anything completely safe, so you do what you list.

I can't remember the story, but Robert Heinlein once had a character tell another that the estimate for a project was x number of dollars and 3 deaths. When the other guy had a fit, the first pointed out that building almost anything bigger and more complicated than a swingset, someone's going to get hurt; so you work to keep it to a minimum and accept the rest as the cost of doing business. Doesn't mean you don't care or don't work to prevent it, it means that you understand that any project, any work has risks. And sometimes the risks will catch up to you.

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