Someone save me from Health and Safety!

Brits are a very safety-conscious people. Security is their lifeblood. I think they invented the phrase ‘play it safe’. Incidentally, it’s an English phrase, so chances are I’m right.

I’ll never get over all the little things here that are designed to minimise the risk in peoples’ lives. Like the neon-coloured high visibility safety vests that every cyclist and professional driver is wearing, along with gardeners, rubbish pick-uppers, supermarket cashiers and loads of ordinary people just walking down the street. Sure, if I was a lollipop lady I might want to don one of these, too, but leaving the house early in the morning when it’s still dark doesn’t mean you are automatically hit by a car without your high-viz vest. Unless, of course, you can’t wait for green before crossing the street.

And what’s with all the warning signs? You know, I was under the impression we Germans were the world champions of ridiculous, superfluent danger notices à la ‘Don’t go too close to the drop-off, you might fall down’. Look at this one here:


I mean, isn't this just the peak of covering your arse?!


Sorry, the little monster wasn’t even half that age when he confidently strode towards said tower. At first, I had to help out a little by holding my hand under his bottom when he climbed up the ladder with rungs at intervals more than half the length of himself. But soon he’d just monkey all the way up and come down the really long slide on his own.

It was quite an accomplishment for him, and he was accordingly proud. Who am I to thwart such enthusiasm by pointing out that he had to wait another 2 1/2 years plus? Only so that the zoo could not get sued if anything ever happened to a less-than-5-year old!

This kind of disclaimer is unfortunately all-too common around here. When friends of mine from Germany visited last year, we had to make it almost a sport to find a place that would microwave the baby food jar for their youngest. It normally took several attempts, and the usual response (especially at but not restricted to chains like Subway or Burger King) was “Sorry, management doesn’t allow me to do it because they could get sued if I heat it up too much and your baby burns his tongue”. Really?! Which parent would 1. not check the temperature before feeding something someone else has warmed up to their little one and 2. sue the helpful soul that had mercy on their hungry toddler?

I also think the island monkeys might have invented helicopter parenting. If you so much as sit down on a bench at the playground and let your toddler run around and explore on his own you get shot dirty looks. The other day the little monster threw a tantrum (it’s known to happen with 2-year olds, you know) on the way home from the shops, and because I couldn’t be asked to drag a screaming, wriggling rugrat along I just kept walking slowly, confident he would follow me eventually as he does. Two minutes later I was shouted at by a complete stranger who deemed the distance of about 30 metres between him and me too large to be safe. For whatever reason, because this is a section of the pavement that is actually separated from the road by a fence. I suppose I should have put a leash on my little monster, that would have taught him!

Just like that day when we went to a pantomime with him. OK, one could argue why I have to take a not-yet-3-year old to a theatre, but then, despite my general awesomeness, I have by bad-mom moments like everyone else I guess. Plus, my mother-in-law had been raving about how much fun the kids have at these Christmas shows with singing along and dancing in the aisles. Except that no-one was allowed in the aisles. For health-and-safety reasons. Of course. God forbid someone trip over him or he fall down the stairs!

Newsflash, people: Kids need to run around on their own, bump their heads or fall down a climbing frame every now and then. It’s called adventure and an integral part of growing up. More often than not they will not even hurt themselves (much) because their bones and ligaments are still super flexible. And it will teach them valuable life skills. Like risk assessment, or finding out where their limits are. Pushing those limits in order to succeed. Trust in their own abilities and ask for help when they feel they can’t succeed on their own. I am convinced they come out better people when you don’t constantly mollycoddle them.

And please, don’t continually try to decide for me, too, what’s too dangerous and what’s not. It will only bring out my rebellious side and I will end up taking risks that I wouldn’t have taken if it weren’t forbidden.


Note: I am probably not as bad a mother as I make myself sound. My little monster is actually allowed to play risk-free games, I do comfort him when he hurts himself and I (dare I say it?) cringe when he runs, climbs or does other risky stuff at insane speeds and with his seemingly uncoordinated movements. I just don’t stop him all the time.

22 thoughts on “Someone save me from Health and Safety!

  1. I agree with everything you said. However, you hit the bullseye early in your post. Litigation. Reasonable people don’t sue when something happens under reasonable circumstances. Unfortunately, there are so many unreasonable people walking about that everyone has become overly cautious and restrictive for fear of getting sued. It’s the old adage come true: a few people have spoiled the party for everyone else.

    • And how sad is that!

      I know that the UK’s and Germany’s legal systems are quite different. Which is probably why back home no-one has to write the German equivalent of ‘Caution, hot! Could cause scalding when spilled over your bodice.’ on a coffee cup. Sometimes it really is ludicrous what people here (and in the US) sue for – and win!

      Thank you for your comment, John. Gives me hope that one day the unreasonable people of this world will die out.

    • Strange, isn’t it? Ok, it might not be everyone but I sure get the feeling I am a minority when I let my son run around independently.
      Thanks for flying by again, Hamid, I appreciate your comment.

  2. I have a similar problem as a French woman living in Switzerland. Every time there is a new rule to follow it brings up my rebellious side :-). And I agree with you about kids: they need to run around and fall and experience not to be over-protected until they’re old enough to become rebellious themselves.

    • A lot of people refer to the UK as the ‘Nanny state’ because regulations tend to overprotect people, whether they want it or not. But then, it’s a democratic country, so it’s probably safe to say that this is what the majority wants. Strange indeed…

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, Cécile, it’s much appreciated.

    • For SAFE adult life! Or they might just continue to live in our basement until we are too old to wrap them in bubble wrap and develop psychopatic tendencies. Every parent’s dream!

  3. Enjoyed reading the post. I see kids on a leash all the time here in canada. I recently heard the term ‘ free range kids’ in the context of letting children explore. learn and play and get hurt( a little bit) in the process.

  4. “We suggest that the tower is not suitable.” Wimps! Either (a) tell people straight up it’s a disaster zone that you will leave you hideously maimed and identifiable only by your dental records or (b) just let them at it. 🙂

    Great post!

    • I have a feeling that you won’t get to read the first suggestion in a lot of places. Love the idea though!

      Thanks for stopping by and not being contrary to my opinion 😉

  5. You’d find all the same safety phobias you describe on the Island right here in the good ol’ USof A, too. I find it simply miraculous that Americans ever had the nerve to hop in rickety boats and sail for months across the pond to land where who knows what might happen to them. And then they crawled in big wooden wagons pulled by plodding oxen and headed for Indian country. How ever did we settle this big country what with our fear of everything?

    In the airport last week I observed a woman trying to push her mother down a concourse in an airport-provided wheelchair. But she had to duke it out with the airport grunt who absolutely INSISTED on pushing both the woman’s mother’s wheelchair as well as the well chair of another elderly lady. Finally, the poor daughter gave up and ceded to the “authority” of the airport staff person who looked about 18. I’m sure that whole thing was driven by liability issues.

    Of course, that brings us to perhaps the foundation of all these infernal safety mechanisms. Perhaps if we didn’t live in such a litigenous society, we could actually go about our business without worrying about bumping our heads, burning our mouths, or breaking our fingernails.

    • Ah, but you forget that the people who braved the Great Unknown back then were not Americans. Yet. I think the blessings of modern life are to blame. The comfort and relative security make us not only fat and arrogant but also afraid we might lose all those goodies. To thugs, ebola epidemics, terrorist countries – or a shortened lifespan due to a fractured fingernail. On top of that, some countries, as you have pointed out, have a real screwed-up legal system that encourages people not to take responsibility but to blame and sue others. Preferably the ones with the biggest bank accounts of course.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, and sorry I didn’t get to reply sooner. I hope I will manage to write up a post explaining why in the next few days. Stay tuned.

    • Oh that is just ludicrous! I wonder how many people came to death on those rocks, prompting them to put the warning signs up, bahaha!!!

      Thanks for the link to the free range kids blog, will definitely check it out.

  6. You sound like a great mother, Sandra. I think part of being a parent is finding that balance between potential growth and potential harm. And as the kids mature, we have to constantly adjust the settings. Much of society is just too obsessed with knee pads and helmets. Keep up the great parenting, and the excellent writing.

    • Thank you, Charles, you say the kindest things. And you perfectly describe the balancing act that any good parent faces on a daily basis. I am just glad I’m not the only one who sees the danger of mollycoddling our children. Thanks for the support.

    • Hi Val, this is so sweet of you, remembering me and my endless rants.

      Unfortunately I do have something to whinge about and that is my physical well-being. I managed to get myself pregnant and now struggle with the unwanted side-effects. I was preparing a post on your lovely food choices but for obvious reasons I had to postpone that one. Don’t fancy wiping things off my keyboard that are destined for the toilet bowl…

      Long story short, as soon as this accursed 24/7 sickness abates I will be back, promise!

      • Oh, you must be looking forward the the pleasanter pregnancy feelings then! Glad to hear you’re alive (if not fully well!). I look forward to your return. (Sort of!)

        Your island monkey friend… 😉

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