Everyone wants to feel safe. Except maybe those who engage in certain Extreme Sports and soldier Mercenaries. At least I think we like to be safe. People with children understand this especially. Not that single people don’t want to be safe of course. But children bring to the table another level of safety that brings out the protector in us. We try to choose safe neighbourhoods in which to live and never let our children play in terribly unsafe environments. There is risk in everything we do, but we try our best to minimise any potential danger.
In times of peace we do a better job at creating safe havens than we do when there is war on our doorsteps. When our children decide to secretly try dangerous activities without our knowledge, that too is a concern. But we have, in this peacetime (for many of us anyway), built safer playgrounds, sanitized our work and learning spaces, detoxed ourselves (some of us) and hold food-producing companies to stick to higher standards. We also have made sure that other products we use are safe from materials that can harm us. Pay attention China.
Some have said that today’s emphasis on Health and Safety has gone too far. They say we are trying to create a risk-free world where nothing bad can happen, an impossibility given that nature pays no attention to our maxims. But as far as we can, we have set in play sets of rules and regulations that try to save us from ourselves. Companies and Corporations hire people specifically for the purpose of applying health and safety standards in every area of the work place. When I worked in a music shop at Bluewater Mall, I was not allowed to climb a ladder in our storeroom unless I was qualified and then certified to do so.
Overkill? Bad choice of words there….over cautious? Many think so. When children are barred from climbing trees in the name of health and safety, the public responds with derision aimed at the regulators of such standards. The public asks if we are turning the next generation into a bunch of wimps and wussies. True? depends on a lot of things. Some of us ought never climb trees. There is clumsiness and vertigo and such. But then shouldn’t that be a matter for common sense instead of legislation? Some say yes. Others think we can not be trusted to be left in our own recognizance. The debate goes on.
There are times, though, when no one could have foreseen the danger nor could they have predicted the outcome of that present danger. I refer to unexploded Second World War bombs that continue to dot the landscape especially around southern England. Seems much of Europe is a powder keg just waiting for the right conditions to blow the whole continent to oblivion. No one knows how many unexploded ordnance sits below the surface of many parts of Europe. But every so often one of those devices shows up, creating chaos where it is found.
Unexploded Bombs (UXB) and unexploded ordnance (UXO) usually lie below the surface of the earth, having dropped from the sky, causing an impact that buries the bomb if it doesn’t explode. Some were covered by rubble from craters caused by exploding bombs. Others had debris shovelled over them inadvertently. Most of the devices have been there since the end of the last World War. As if that weren’t bad enough, Land Service Ammunition (LSA) has been left behind in places and Naval mines and munitions from Britain’s own navy were lost and buried in the sea during the last war. The storms and flooding during the winter of 2014 saw huge waves uncovering some of these ordnance along the southern coast of England and up along the Welsh coast.
Health and Safety has no answer for this except to make sure new construction sites are aware of the potential danger. This past March (on my birthday) a 5 foot, 1000lb unexploded bomb was uncovered very near Tower Bridge in London under the old site of the Irish Pensioners’ Centre. The whole area was evacuated and Tower Bridge closed to traffic. Local councillor Lucas Green said, “Seems our OAPs (Old Age Pensioners) are hard as nails, drinking tea on top of a 1000lb bomb for 70 years.” Indeed. Just a week later, a UXB was discovered in Bath, to the west of London in the Rush Hill area. And near the end of May this year a 50kg explosive from the war was found very hear Wembley stadium. That would have been some explosive FA Cup final between Arsenal and Aston Villa had that gone off during the game a week later on the 30th.
Just in the period between 2009 and 2014, 7 unexploded bombs were dug up in the south of England and 5 live hand grenades (don’t ask). A map is being drawn up for all the potential sites on which bombs might still be hiding. It’s a health and safety nightmare with London and Portsmouth being at the centre of it. In the past UXBs have been found in my neighbourhood which is miles from the docks. The Luftwaffe were not always accurate. They estimate that at least 1 in every 10 bombs dropped on London during the Second World war misfired due to problems with the firing pins. That turns out to be quite a few unexploded UXBs. But the bombs are still active and a disturbance could reawaken the timing mechanisms.
On the continent of Europe, Berlin is the city that has the most bombs that never went BOOM. Understandable I guess, given the city’s central role in the war and being bombed by the Allies and the Soviets. The estimate is that there are more than 3,000 bombs yet to be discovered or go off before they are found in Berlin. Since the end of the war, 1.8 million explosive devices have turned up in the city. That’s a health and safety catastrophe. It’s a wonder the city is still standing.
So, are we ever really safe? Depends where you are I suppose. I would imagine that except for construction firing pins, Canada is pretty clear of buried bombs. Growing up there I never heard any stories of UXBs being unearthed in any of its cities. That’s pretty reassuring. About the only thing to worry about in Toronto where I grew up was the swollen rivers in the Springtime. I lost two friends to one of those rivers years ago. But the old city was pretty safe. It has shaken slightly a couple of times because Toronto is apparently on a fault line, but I never experienced anything remotely like having a UXB under my house or the potential for it.
I wish they’d come out with a bomb detector you could wear on your wrist. I walk around London these days quite gingerly. It worries me when joggers go by. Their pounding feet could set something off. You never know. Life is a risk. You take it a day at a time, moment by moment and hope like crazy the undetected UXB under your house or in your garden or along the Thames stays dormant until its use-by-date has finally reached its limit.