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Now children - don't do this at home!

Researchers unwisely inspecting an unsupported excavation. On no account should anyone, ever do this, whether they are wearing hard hats or not.

Matthew McGann is worried by the cavalier attitudes to safety sometimes portrayed in published illustrations.

Geoscientist 20.03 March 2010

I am sure that the vast majority of Geoscientist readers (and the population of the western world in general) grew up watching TV programmes during which “dangerous” scientific experiments where undertaken “before your very eyes”. These experiments generally involved mixing regular household chemicals and often required the use of a microwave oven or crème brulée blowtorch. However, as an addict of these programs I distinctly remember that presenters would always wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) of the day. This would typically consist of an oversized labcoat and even more over-sized safety glasses seemingly developed for observing the nuclear test programs of the 1950s. However in addition, the presenters would also add the cautionary phrase:“Now children, don’t try this at home!”

Fortunately I survived my childhood and since then have been incredibly privileged to have been able to work all over the world, including in developing countries. I immensely enjoy the experiences I have had; but there are however many issues associated with work in developing countries, and a lot of them revolve around health and safety. (Though that said, I am still convinced that the most dangerous aspect of the supposed “drug-dent” capitals of South America is the regular absence of manhole covers.)

In my various roles I have always been responsible for the health and safety of the people I work with. This task takes on a special level of difficulty when most of the people one works with perhaps did not have access to television as children, or they did not like to watch the programs on home-based atomic testing that I enjoyed, and hence never heard the ubiquitous cautionary safety message.

At work every single day I have to keep vigilant and explain why doing something in a certain way could be dangerous. I think we have all seen the emails of someone standing on a ladder in a swimming–pool with an electric drill, these types of activities really do occur.

With this in mind it is always with great disappointment that I see photographs in Geoscientist showing researchers doing “dangerous” things, like inspecting unsupported test pits (picture). The folks doing the fieldwork that these articles summarise need to set the best example possible, especially when the local populations comes out to inspect the proceedings. Equally Geoscientist has a responsibility not to publish photos of these acts without at the very least the catchcry of “Now children don’t try this at home!”.

  • Editor writes: Matthew is quite right of course. We do our best not to show pictures showing unsafe practices, but occasionally one slips through. For this reason, we are very sorry for showing the picture (top) in a recent feature. We show it here again only as an example of how not to inspect a trial pit.