Posts Tagged ‘safety’

The fire alarm that cried wolf

Saturday, September 17th, 2016 | Thoughts


The apartment building I live in is mixed-use apartments and office space. That means that every now and then there is a fire drill in the middle of the day. I say every now and then: give how little I am home and how often it seems to happen, I would guess at every month. This is really annoying.

We don’t get a warning, so all of a sudden the alarm will go off.

There are two ways you can react to this. One way is to panic. That makes sense, because there might be a fire. But, you are at home, so what state are you in to run out of the building? You might be naked. In the middle of a toilet visit. Asleep. In the shower. In the middle of cooking.

The second is to assume that it is just a drill. They happen so often that this is a good bet. Apartment buildings basically never catch on fire. In fact, it is so rare that even when it happens in Dubai it is a major news story over here. Which is fine, until there is a fire for real and you are burnt alive.

Not to mention that the fire alarm is incredibly loud. If you are of a nervous disposition it probably causes a significant amount of stress, and even if you are not, you are probably running for the exit with fingers in both ears as I saw someone doing today.

Fire alarms are for when there is a fire. That should not have to be something you have to state. It should be obvious. But people keep setting them off and calling them “fire drills”. That should not be acceptable, any more than yelling “fire!” in a theatre is acceptable, unless there is an actual fire.

If you do want to test the systems, that makes sense. But doing it without telling everyone is irresponsible and breads complacence about what a fire alarm actually is.

Do child car seats save lives?

Friday, June 10th, 2016 | Science


Steven Levitt, of Freakonomics fame, gave a talk at TED in 2005. In it, he put forward the idea that child car seats do not outperform just using a seatbelt to a significant degree for children over two.

In some ways, this is shocking but believable. Take handsfree kits for example. There is no evidence that they are any safer than holding your phone. The dangerous bit is having a phone conversation, regardless of the phone being on handsfree or not. However, because it seems intuitive, because it allows the government to look like they are doing something, and because it allows manufacturers to sell us more stuff, everyone goes along with it.

Could the same thing be happening here?

Well, maybe. It is difficult to argue with the data he presents. However, in the Q&A at the end of the talk, Levitt touches on the issue of whether car seats do provide a reduction in injury and it turns out that they may well do. Other datasets suggest that there is a significant benefit.

Also, the following year the University of Michigan published a study suggesting that there was a significant reduction in risk of death: 28%. The study seems to group front and rear facing seats into the same category so it would be interesting to see if these groups showed a difference.

Therefore, unless further evidence is published, it makes sense to continue to use child car seats.

20’s Plenty for Us

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 | Events, Foundation, Humanism

For the January meeting of Leeds Skeptics, Anna Semlyen spoke on why Leeds should have a blanket twenty mile an hour speed limit.

I thought it was a fascinating topic as it is one that really challenges us to think about our views (as opposed to Big Foot, that is just us basically laughing at stupid people). She made some great points about safety, though the other points about public health benefit (people walk more when the speed limit is lower) remain unproven. It invoked some engaging debate and I really enjoyed the event.

You can find out more about the campaign on their website.

First aid

Sunday, March 17th, 2013 | Thoughts

I’m trained in first aid. I have a certificate to prove it and everything. There is a good chance you do too. If you haven’t, some people at your work will do – it’s a legal requirement.

I wonder what the evidence for its efficacy though.

Think about how much you remember from your first aid course. Probably very little. Indeed, in my experience speaking to first aid reps at various companies, they say they can remember very little from their course.

Even if they do remember something, those that do usually admit that when they were actually called on to deal with an accident, they were in such a panic that even though knowledge blanked from their mind. Given what we know about psychology, that is no surprise – unless you do this every day, you’re going to struggle with the pressure.

The one thing people do tend to remember is CPR, presumably because having to kiss a dummy seems rather strange and therefore sticks in the mind. This is unfortunate as CPR isn’t a particularly useful piece of first aid because the survival rates are so low, as I’ll go into detail about.

CPR is bad. If you need to give CPR, it means someone’s heart has stopped, so they’re probably going to die. In fact, as my first aid instructor explained, all you’re doing is keeping the meat warm until the paramedics get there. You probably won’t manage it, and even if you do, they will probably die in hospital as a result anyway. Survival rates from by standers giving CPR is 5%; you have a 1 in 20 chance of making it.

That isn’t because people aren’t trained to do CPR, it’s because when someone’s heart has stopped, they’re fucked. Even if you are in a hospital at the time, and a doctor is watching you, the odds are against you, and if a doctor isn’t watching, the unfavourable odds drop to 1 in 50.

My point isn’t that first aid isn’t useful – I think it is. But I think we need to teach it in a far more effective way. A way in which people come away with more than only one piece of knowledge, that probably won’t save anyone’s life anyway.

Ideally, we would teach it in schools so that everybody knows it too. Then hopefully at least one person will be calm enough to remember what they learned.

Driving while talking on a mobile

Saturday, October 6th, 2012 | Religion & Politics, Science


About ten years ago, everyone started to panic about the increased use of mobile phones while driving, because they seemed to be causing lots of accidents. The response was to ban the practice, which became illegal in 2003, unless you were using a handsfree set.

This was widely supported by the mobile phone industry who happily charged us lots of money to provide a variety of handsfree solutions, from simple holders to elaborate integrated in-car systems.

The problem is however, they don’t work. Driving while talking on a handsfree kit is just as dangerous as driving while holding the handset. Multiple studies have all supported the same conclusion.

It’s easy to see how this situation happened. You assume it is the act of holding the phone, so without testing it, you suggest it as an idea and phone manufacturers jump on it as an easy way to make more money from us. To further their own profits, they continue to push the idea that it is safer to drive using handsfree, even though it isn’t.

In fact, it turns out that it is the act of holding a conversation, which takes some of your attention away from the road, that reduces the safety. So it is irrelevant whether you’re holding the handset or not.

Worth thinking about, next time you take a call on your handsfree set.

On your bike

Friday, April 13th, 2012 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Cyclists on the road have long been a contentious issue for drivers. Many drivers argue that they slow down traffic and don’t pay any road tax. Meanwhile, cyclists argue that not enough care is taken by drivers to maintain safe roads and that they are often the victims of accidents in which they come off much worse.

The issue seems to be that they are very much in limbo. They are road users in many aspects, but then they are also similar to pedestrians in many ways (so in some aspects, pedestrians are road users also).

Traffic lights are a very good example of this. I would say the majority of cyclists I see on the roads, that is to say at least over 50% of them, do not pay attention to traffic lights. They ride straight through them or sometimes mount the pavement in order to avoid them if you would go as far as to describing it as that.

My problem with this is that you can’t expect to be treated as a valid road user, if you’re going to jump red lights.

First of all, it isn’t safe. You can make the argument that it is safe because obviously a cyclist wouldn’t jump a red light when there was someone crossing but if you’re going to make this argument there is no reason why cars should still be restricted to stopping for red lights – after all, we promise to check if there are people on the crossing. Obviously, this would end badly. Why? Because it’s just not safe to let people jump red lights, whoever they are (including emergency vehicles, but there are greater risk of not stopping).

Secondly, it creates a separation between cars and bikes. If we’re going to maintain that cyclists are full road users who deserve just as much respect as drivers, then they need to be held to the same standards as cars and motorbikes – if you say “the law doesn’t apply to me because I don’t have an engine”, you’re unlikely to be granted the respect you are looking for either.

As a society, we need to make the roads safer for cyclists – and that is only going to happen when drivers change their attitude towards cyclists. But, when the majority of cyclists don’t follow the rules of the road, can we really blame drivers for not giving them that respect?

Fire safety advice

Monday, September 7th, 2009 | Religion & Politics

In today’s ultra P.C. nanny culture the posters informing you what to do if there is a fire might as well not be there. As such I’ve decided to provide some practical tips on fire safety.

  • If the fire alarm goes off, ignore it, it’s probably a test.
  • If there is a fire, don’t walk – run! There’s a fire for god’s sake!
  • Go back for personal possessions – you don’t want them to get burnt.
  • If you are in a high rise building, use the lift, it will be quicker to escape the fire that way
  • Bare in mind vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly. They may not be able to move as fast so you may need to push them out of the way.
  • If the fire is small, just run for it, there is no glory in putting it out. Only attempt to tackle large blazes in which you stand a chance of getting on the front cover of The Express.
  • Remember, safety first – wait until you are a safe distance away from the fire before attempting to take a picture with your phone and send it to TwitPic.