Question – What have limestone quarries in the UK’s Yorkshire and Derbyshire, and Health & Safety got in common?
Answer – Apart from silicosis (which has now been addressed by wet cutting techniques), they have absolutely nothing in common. One produces a range of tough resilient building materials generically referred to as ‘aggregates’; the other produces a bland compliant uniform and weak structure.
But before reaching fingers to keyboard in protest at such an outlandish comparison, please take time to consider the metaphor. From domestic paths to parking lots to free-ways to rail-roads to airport runways, something carries the punishing load imposed by the passing traffic and transfers it to the ground beneath. That ‘something’ is almost always some form of aggregate. Without it mass transport could not happen. And, of course, aggregates are sourced all over the world not just from the UK’s Peak District. Compared with other composite materials like glass reinforced plastic and steel, they are cheap and unsophisticated, but they are durable. What gives them their strength is the range of particle sizes and their angular rough shape. From ‘scalpings’, which need a microscope to examine, to track ballast, which can be seen with the naked eye, the components are rough round the edges.
Compare and contrast these with materials that have uniform particle sizes and the edges smoothed off. From soft sand, to pea shingle to decorative pebbles, they look good, feel smooth but are structurally weak. Indeed most forms of pure uniform material are structurally weak; without the interstitial carbon atoms in steel pure iron bends under load and does not recover. And what does the health community try to do? It trains people to think in a uniform way, it insists on compliance and it uses bland smooth language that brooks no disagreement. By analogy with smooth uniform materials it is weak.
I like organisations with a variety of different people in it. I like people who are blunt in what they say and how they say it. I like the rough uncompromising Yorkshiremen with whom I went to college. Intuitively I feel safer in such communities and organisations.