More safety than sparkle?


As children the week leading up to Bonfire Night always involved being fed horror stories and told to be extra careful and vigilant. This usually had one of two affects; the child would either listen to the advice and always maintain a safe distance from the celebrations, or the child would go home that evening and laugh hysterically as someone tips paraffin onto the bonfire and a drunk relative dances on the embers. There is no question here about which child had the better November 5th, which of course begs the question, is health and safety ruining Bonfire Night?

We all know that part of the fun is definitely in the fear. Whether it is going on a rollercoaster or watching a horror film, part of the joy comes from the terror involved in these activities, and this is especially so on Bonfire Night. There is a sense of exhilaration in feeling the heat of the flames on your nose and seeing that the man in charge of the fireworks at the local display only has three fingers and a lot of burn marks on his arm. And it is this excitement and risk that most of us remember from past Guy Fawkes’ nights. Not being one hundred percent sure that the gloves you are holding your sparkler with are inflammable, squealing as your father runs away from the Catherine wheel that has just set the tree on fire, and gasping when your granddad ignites the lawn with his enthusiastic bonfire maintaining. By health and safety demanding that we remain a certain distance away and be completely and utterly safe, it robs us from this exciting feeling of nervous thrill, not to mention possible memories for years to come.

Also by healthy and safety being so strict, we never get the chance to learn from our mistakes. This does sound like a rather morbid point, and by no means am I suggesting we should be careless, but there is still nothing like a group of twenty tipsy teenagers chasing after a Chinese lantern as it plummets from the sky in the direction of the laundrette. By abiding by health and safety regulations and perhaps commons sense, we would not have this hilarious memory and by experiencing this ourselves, we know not to do it again. Well, not near our block anyway.

These claims may seem rather irresponsible and so I must declare that part of me does believe health and safety is a good thing; mainly the part of myself who worries that my jacket may have a label demanding ‘Keep away from fire’ on the collar, and that yelps a little when the fireworks are just that little bit too loud. If you are a natural worrier, then it is nice to know that at some events, there are regulations allowing you to stay safe, and for parents of young children, this must be extra comforting. An example of this could be the recent health and safety suggestions to make sure that toxic items such as paint or foam did not get thrown onto bonfires, which again seems sensible due to their harmful effects on the environment and on the lungs of the surrounding people. However, just as we begin to think that these are all perfectly rational regulations, we suddenly lose respect for health and safety when we discover that the fine for this is a ridiculous £50,000. This sums up health and safety completely; it always goes too far and saps the enjoyment out of a fun event. If we just used common sense instead of such tight regulations, we could all have an excellent and still safe Bonfire Night. And thank goodness health and safety wasn’t a part of paraffin night!

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  1. Couldn’t agree more. My fave bonfire nights are always the one where someone’s face gets blown off and Grandad gets third-degree burns!

  2. Please tell me this was written ironically. Please.

    The justification of common sense should not be, “We can learn from our mistakes, and when we get out of A&E with our new prosthetic feet we’ll be grateful for it.” It has nothing to do with H&S, it’s about not being a prat. Okay, common sense is a given, but this worrying implication that H&S comes along like a big killjoy is utter twaddle. Should safety precautions be in place? Yes. Should we take it to extremes and shut everyone off behind double glazing? Of course not. And no-one is suggesting that should be the case.

    I’m slightly worried by the implication that fireworks are all about the danger and getting pissed around flammable objects. I really hope the author is the only person who believes that. My childhood had nothing to do with danger, it was all about marshmallows and hot chocolate and freezing in the mud while the sky turned into a painting of light.

    And the rollercoaster analogy? Are you implying that you want it to crash? I always kinda hope it doesn’t, but maybe that’s just me.

  3. Oh, and it’s *effects.

  4. Oh, and about the fine- it’s only in place for putting other people in serious danger. Do you think a human life is worth less than £50k?

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