I’ll take that planet – right there

I note that astronomers have recently discovered a new planetary system 127 light years away – that’s very nearly the height of the combined expense claims of MPs and MEPs. Coincidentally, it’s also broadly equivalent to the gulf in perception of wrong-doing between politicians and the people (though given half the chance, who wouldn’t do the same – oh the slippery slope). Don’t you just love it when people express astronomical figures in terms of common everyday objects like 22 London buses or 52 elephants or 3 blue whales or 412 big macs?

I mention the planetary system because we may be needing a new one sooner than you think. If we load all our Health and Safety people into a rocket ship and send them over they could cover the new planet in rubber or something (latex just doesn’t suit some people) to make it safe before the main party arrives. Doubtless, they’d need the services of lawyers (for any unforeseen local alien legislation), politicians (there may be some tricky negotiations with indigenous life forms) and estate agents (for that all important land purchase), so we should send them too. I’m sure we’d all be very grateful and we’d just have to cope in their absence. It would be difficult but there we are.

As it happens, earlier this month I took a short break to Brussels which is quite a rich cultural city. In addition to its vast collection of gothic and art deco architecture and the fabulous Atomium (in the shape of a body-centred cubic iron crystal), it has a modern European quarter. This houses the august organs of the European Union: the Council of Ministers, European Commission, and the European Parliament (which also sits in Strasbourg). There are of course the various committees which have to have their own buildings too (would you want to share?) and about a planetful of administrators, professional lobbyists and others. If they were all gone, we would miss them dearly.

As I said, we may be needing a planet sooner than you think. The recent protracted, extreme rainfall and flooding in Pakistan and, more recently, Niger is a trend that might just be down to man’s influence on the climate. Aid agencies are at full stretch and the inevitable disease outbreaks are just around the corner. Regardless of your views on man’s influence on the climate it is difficult to be prepared for disasters of this magnitude or do much to prevent them in the short term. It is also quite easy to ignore them (or at least forget) when they don’t directly affect you. We can however, help mitigate their effects and, although far more is needed, the generosity of global nations has been very welcome. It’s a good thing too – doing the right thing (the “moral reason”) is at the heart of every good safety practitioner’s motivation for managing HSE.