Life lessons

The other day, I was walking along a road which was lined with parked cars on both sides of the road. The congestion on this road is due to a combination of residents’ cars and people visiting the area and parking up for a short period of time. As is the trend these days, the cars on one side of the road were parked with one set of wheels on the pavement. Now, I am not against motorists keeping the road clear at the expense of pedestrians; I do it myself. However, I do object to the car taking over the majority of the pavement, leaving only the smallest of gaps for walkers to squeeze through. When this happens I am tempted to walk over the top of the car, leaving clear footprints to make my point, but have never had the courage of my convictions. It is not just selfish motivation at play here. I can still remember pushing prams and buggies (many years ago) and there is no way that these could be pushed along the pavement. If you have a double buggy then don’t even bother to leave the house.

Anyway, I digress! As I walked along this congested pavement, two young children ran out of one of the houses on their way to school, followed some yards behind by their father. At the same moment, one of the cars parked partly on the pavement started moving forward to a better parking position. The children ran past the car, which was moving along the pavement. The father shouted after the elder child, calling their name and asking the question: “Are you an idiot?” Although I immediately thought that this was unfair, as the child was doing nothing more than running happily along a pavement, I could empathise with the father. It is important to make your children in particular, and people in general, aware of the hazards around them and how to keep themselves safe in the presence of such hazards. However, in this situation the person who caused the hazard, who should have had more sense and who had the ability to remove the hazard by stopping and waiting 30 seconds until the children and their father had passed by, got away without so much as a disapproving glance. Well, apart from the one from me, from a distance, that he couldn’t see.

This got me thinking about how much we can learn just from observing what happens around us in everyday life. In response to a news item, the local radio station asked listeners to phone in with their litter tales. One caller described how the local school required the children to pick up litter from the school grounds at break time: each child had to go back into the school with one item of litter. The children soon started taking ‘litter’ from home (for example empty crisp packets) into school so that they didn’t have to walk around and pick something up! This is a perfect example of how targets impact on people’s behaviour and end up not achieving their original goal.

During the recent floods in the south west there was much discussion about who was to blame: the Government or the Environment Agency. There was a lot of coverage about the decision not to dredge the rivers and the impact this had had. There was no mention that I saw about the impact of farming practices as a possible contributory factor. That is until a columnist in the Sunday Times discussed it in an article. I don’t know what the causes of the floods were but the lessons from this story are that problems are often more complex than people would like them to be and only if the full facts are disclosed and discussed will the best solution be found.

The final lesson for this month comes from the news that more people have died from stress-related illnesses and other maladies following the Fukushima disaster than from injuries directly linked to the disaster. Evidently, 1,656 people died from the former, whilst 1,607 people died from disaster-related injuries. There are a number of lessons here. The first is that, despite the evidence, we still just focus on the physical effects of events and continue to ignore the subsequent psychological impact of the aftermath. We do not learn lessons properly. The second, on a more personal level, is that the effects of stress accumulate over time and can have a big impact on our health. Finally, this news reinforces what I suggested in my article of November 2011 – so I do write sense occasionally.

NDT as a profession requires regular updates in knowledge and the retesting of skills. The rapid development of technology means we have to learn new techniques and familiarise ourselves with new pieces of kit and software to keep up to date. Engineering registration and Institute membership requires continuing professional development to be undertaken and recorded, often through attendance at conferences, seminars and Branch meetings. Yet, some key important lessons can be learned by just observing what goes on around us, if we take time to stop and think a little.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within the NDT Newspaper. They do not represent the views of AMEC or the HSE who funded the PANI projects.

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