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A high risk strategy


Failure to teach our children about risk and personal responsibility is presenting a real threat to the future ability of UK business to compete in the world market, according to Digby Jones, the director general of the CBI.

Addressing the National Association of Head Teachers this week, he said the increasing emphasis on individual rights coupled with the growth in health and safety regulation was teaching children that 'risk doesn't exist' and that responsibility was always someone else's.

It is a real worry and no doubt stems from the claims culture sweeping through our society.

Whether sitting in a classroom, walking down the street, or working in an office, factory or construction site, regulations designed to ensure no harm comes to us are now a fact of life.

The danger, Jones emphasised, was that our competitors in China and India had a different view. They were 'risk-takers' he said. Their attitude to life was how to exploit opportunities rather than protect against the risks that came with them. If we didn't change our attitude and reintroduce children to the concept of failure and to open competition, he feared we would fi nd ourselves left behind by the emerging world.

Civil engineers, more than any profession, will understand what he is talking about. Our whole business is founded on risk and designing ways not to eliminate it but to manage it.

Put simply, in a world devoid of risk we have no purpose. The ability to manage something that has been outlawed becomes worthless.

Many in the profession would argue that the current legislation governing civil engineering and construction is already pretty far down the risk averse route.

With so much emphasis now on risk elimination and devolving of responsibility, the profession's key risk management skills are being obviated.

An extreme view, perhaps.

But while I whole-heartedly pport the use of guidance, ulations and legislation to tackle the massive problem of death and injury in the construction industry, it is also vital that whatever form these controls take, they remain usable by the actual practitioners and deliver the intended results.

The current consultation on the CDM (Construction Design & Management) regulations is a prime opportunity to ask fundamental questions and ensure that some realism is reintroduced to our own profession. Have the numbers killed and injured in the industry fallen in proportion to the cash and effort spent implementing the regulations- Has the tool become a bureaucracy?

Clearly schools are not the only place that we need to be reintroducing the concept of risk and responsibility. But as Jones warned, it is fundamental to ensuring future economic growth in the UK.

In a few hours we will find out the result of the General Election and discover who we have placed in Downing Street to lead the nation for the next five years. They will either continue with or inherit a strong economy to assist them in delivering the policies promised over the last four weeks. Civil engineering professionals can really help introduce some clarity on how the new government's ambitions can be best achieved, particularly in the area of proper management of risk and competition which will be vital for any government to continue to run a strong economy. The engineering profession understands these concepts and we must lead the UK's reappraisal of them.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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