Safety Moment #61: Hard Times for These Times

Hard Times for These Times

We have just released the ebook A Brief History of Process Safety Management.

The first chapter shows how safety became a value within industry. No matter how poor a facility's safety performance may be, no one ever says, “Safety doesn’t matter”. But this attitude did not always hold true.

In the year 1843 Charles Dickens wrote his book Hard Times for These Times (later shortened to just Hard Times). Using the weapons of satire and irony (weapons in almost complete disuse in the current process safety world) he challenges the industrialists of his time and gives powerful impetus to the idea that safety does matter, that safety is a value.

The following passage is from the first section of the ebook. In this passage Dickens not only raises up safety as being a value, he also challenges the response that “safety is too expensive — we can’t afford it”.

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Coketown in Hard Times for These Times
Coketown

The historical journey starts in the year 1854 with the publication of the book Hard Times by the famous author Charles Dickens. The book is set in the fictional Coketown. Dickens satirically attacks the industrialists who operate the industries of that town. Of them he says,

They [ the industrialists ] were ruined when they were required to send labouring children to school; they were ruined when inspectors were appointed to look into their works; they were ruined, when such inspectors considered it doubtful whether they were quite justified in chopping people up with their machinery; they were utterly undone, when it was hinted that perhaps they need not always make quite so much smoke . . .

In other words, the industrialists of his time did not treat safety as being a value — and definitely not the top priority.

The weapon that Dickens and his fellow authors used was satire. This weapon has now fallen out of use — modern professional safety workers rarely attempt the use of irony; nor do they write fiction. This is to be regretted.

When faced with the cost of implementing safety programs and standards, the response of industrialists and facility managers is often that such programs are too expensive. Dickens had no problem with challenging this point of view either.

Whenever a Coketowner felt he was ill-used-that is to say, whenever he was not left entirely alone, and it was proposed to hold him accountable for the consequences of any of his acts - he was sure to come out with the awful menace, that he would 'sooner pitch his property into the Atlantic.' This had terrified the Home Secretary within an inch of his life, on several occasions.

However, the Coketowners were so patriotic after all, that they never had pitched their property into the Atlantic yet, but, on the contrary, had been kind enough to take mighty good care of it.

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