PO Box 2 Blackball

Paul Maunder's blog


health and safety



A large sign suddenly appeared on the swimming bath fence. It feels like a message from aliens. What does it mean? Who is it for? The average user of the pool? What does one take from it?

Every farm gate now sports a sign: Multiple hazard area. What should one do about it? Every child going to school, every jogger, truck driver, builder, milk vendor, junk mail deliverer, wears a high viz jerkin, as if we have become visually impaired.

Local MP, Damien O’Connor gave up his electorate office in Albert Mall because the building had too low an earthquake rating.  It was a good location in the centre of town opposite the library, an open glass frontage good for poster display, a space easy to pop into and have a chat. The new office on the outskirts of the CBD has a high counter with a latched entrance to stop loonies barging their way in and assaulting the secretary. Of course a woman working alone in a more isolate location is vulnerable and since the Ashburton rampage public servants are perceived as an at risk group of workers.  But the office is no longer a social and political hub.


Since 9/11 a greater level of alienation is apparent. We are generally on high alert. The supposed dangers, like a virus, have entered the body of society, latching onto healthy cells. How far do we go along with this? Do we have any choice?  And the dangers compound: trucks and cars become terrorist weapons.  At the same time, statistically, it is nonsense. Far more people are killed by falling out of bed or mowing the lawns, than by terrorist attacks.

Taking advantage of this climate of fear and anxiety President Trump is definitely a danger to the health and safety of a multitude of people and those resisting him are faced with some real  safety choices: to go underground or wear a high viz jacket and trust the system? The latter choice is problematic as the media, previously a safeguard, seemingly becomes irrelevant.  Neither tactic will produce safety, but choosing resistance is the only healthy choice.

And what would the underground be organizing? What is the modern sabotage? The General Strike was once able to bring down governments, but nowadays it feels a remote possibility. Instead, some are trying to define the concept of the Social Strike: students, mothers, shoppers, sports players, entertainers, television watchers, radio listeners, volunteers, going on strike and picketing; joined by those workers who are willing… it is an interesting idea and could well prove very powerful.

Health and Safety

I spent Anzac Day in Alexandra, trying to integrate a couple of images.

First image: wandering around Riccarton Mall killing time before an eye check, I happened across a shop selling feel-good stationery, stickers, diaries, note pads, envelopes and the like, all little-girl pinkish and headed with New Age mantra (Where you stumble there your treasure is); the sorts of phrases people sometimes have, for some peculiar reason, on the back of their toilet door. Of course, primary school teachers will have a stock of stickers to reward student efforts, but this shop was for adults. I dreaded being on the receiving end of this pinkness, for it denoted an infantilism and the fixed smile of the bible class.

Second image: the new health and safety legislation includes emotional stress and harm. Fair enough, overwork and bullying (both horizontal and vertical) is now covered. But it has problematic ramifications in the education area. Filling in the Risk Assessment Management (Rams) forms is already complicated enough (you can no longer spontaneously take your class on a stroll around the block on a pleasant day), but now emotional safety is part of it.

Learning is always accompanied by a level of anxiety. Should children always be emotionally comfortable? If so, school drama becomes impossible. How can you comfortably act Romeo and Juliet?  (Ironically, in the same week the legislation was introduced, Sweeney Todd actually slit the throats of a couple of students in a school production of The Threepenny Opera.) How can you comfortably study apartheid or the holocaust or species loss? I have read of ‘comfort rooms’ in US colleges where students, feeling challenged by course content, can go and sit with soft toys and watch DVDs of dolphins playing.

Obviously, emotional health and safety can be about maintaining a level of narcissism which, given the role of narcissism in fascist movements, is politically very unsafe.

Marx called religion the opiate of the people. Taking opium transports one into a world without problems or stress. Paradise is a similar space, be it Christian or Muslim or Hawaiiki. For people living in oppressive circumstances with its stress and physical discomforts (including hunger) and without health and safety, the prospect of a comfortable eternity is an opiate, taking their mind off the reasons behind their personal discomfort.  It also enabled the system to use them as cannon fodder for war. I am sure WW1 was only possible because of a widespread belief that the dead went to heaven.

Freud on the other hand, talked of the oceanic feeling – the affective world of the baby at the breast – warm, soft and receiving the milk of life – making for a wonderful state of narcissism. Religion is based on a yearning for this oceanic feeling; so happy clapping, hymn singing, visions, and of course new ageism (meditation, massage…), and at a more banal level, feel-good stickers and the shop in Riccarton Mall. There is of course, the value and good works side of religious practice and the virtues of meditation, yoga, massage etc., and the hard work attached. I must also mention the oceanic feeling that can occur during performance or on the demonstration.

Emotional health and safety is then a complex issue, not easily dealt with by bureaucracy or the court system, or encompassed by a book of stickers for adults.

I take a stroll to the town centre and observe the solemn service to honour those who sacrificed themselves for ‘freedom, God, King and country’, in a series of wars where health and safety was not high on the agenda. I listen to a speech by a young woman who talks of their sacrifice so she could have choices in her life. Lucky her. I try not to think about the TINA (there is no alternative) mantra of neo-liberalism and the Panama Papers leak, child and sex slavery, the damage being done by Monsanto and agri business, the rich-poor divide, global warming…

But I have had enough of contradiction for one day, will go and take a two year old (thoroughly immersed in the motor narcissism of his age group) for a walk, and make sure he comes to no significant harm.

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