William Shakespeare once wrote: “Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.”
Safety is something we hear a lot about this time of the year as tens of thousands of children return to school. And for good reason.
Last week, the traffic in the capital city changed and intensified overnight. Yet despite all the public awareness, far too many drivers are rushing, breaking the rules of the road, and not watching.
It is no wonder parents were so worried and upset when the City of St. John’s said earlier this summer that it would no longer fund the crossing-guard program, a decision that was quickly overturned after parents expressed their outrage.
I have no doubt that council members were also worried about the risk to children if such a program was eliminated. If a child was hurt or injured as a result, who could live with that?
It is also likely that the threat to cancel the program was a bargaining ploy to get the province or the school board to pony up and share in the cost and administration of this most important service to the children of our city. But neither the province nor the school board, nor any school board elected official, is biting.
I want to thank the parents who fought for the school crossing-guard program. And yes, I also believe the mayor and city council should be commended for making the right decision here.
Before going any further, I admit to having a vested interest in this issue. I am a parent of a 10-year-old who attends a city neighbourhood school that benefits from a crossing guard. Many of the children walk to school, some like my daughter are dropped off and others arrive on a school bus. It makes for a busy, busy morning. And, yes, you need eyes in the back of your head.
The crossing guard issue is a perfect example of jurisdictional disputes that often arise between different levels of government. In this case, the city started the program after a child was hurt. It was a proper response.
Since then the city has tried to convince the province and the school board to cost-share the program. There has been no interest by either in doing so.
Sadly, this is what often happens with safety. It is everyone’s responsibility and no one’s responsibility.
Perhaps the most scrutiny we’ve had on safety in recent times has been the Wells Inquiry into offshore helicopter safety.
In his final report, another outstanding analysis of why an independent and powerful safety regulator is needed for our offshore oil industry, Commissioner Robert Wells referred to the “Swiss Cheese Model” of risk management. That process requires that there are, or should be, a number of defences in place to prevent accidents from occurring. One defence is not enough.
Commissioner Wells noted that “the interests and concerns of the public extend especially to safety which encompasses prevention of injury, prevention of loss of life and protection of the environment.”
While Commissioner Wells was speaking to the issue of offshore safety, his comments hold true of safety generally and can also be applied to the “defences” that should and must be taken in protecting our children from injury or harm. While the crossing guards are not the only safety defence, they are certainly one of them and an important one at that.
If the province or the school board can’t recognize that a school crossing-guard program is extremely important to the safety of small children and that they should be at the very least cost-sharing such a program with the City of St. John’s and others who may deem crossing guards an important safety defence, then what does that tell us?
It tells us that jurisdictional wrangling can be one of the holes in the Swiss cheese.
It tells us that this jurisdictional bickering can be used as an excuse for inaction.
In the world of safety, we see this too often. The offshore is a good example where the need for jurisdictional consensus is used as an excuse to do nothing.
Thankfully the city did not follow this example and instead acted in the interests of the safety of children.
Thankfully, concerned parents recognized their political clout and used it.
We often hear how safety is a No. 1 public policy priority and yet when push comes to shove, is it really?
Maybe we should ask the children.
Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column returns Sept. 24.