Moral Maze

Fireworks are fun; they’re also dangerous. Hundreds of people are injured every November 5th and pets are frightened by the noise. What’s to be done? Sainsbury’s has become the first UK supermarket to stop selling fireworks and some MPs have called for an outright ban. They are heroes to some; to others, they are spoilsports, determined to see every jot of joy fizzle out like a damp roman candle. We take risks all the time, for better or worse, but is the long march of health and safety – from the Factory Act of 1833 to the smoking ban and beyond – taking us to a better place, or are we becoming an over-anxious, risk-averse nation? Risk assessments are vital – they can prevent lots of people from dying – but, despite the fact that ‘health and safety culture’ has extended its reach into almost every aspect of our lives, it failed to prevent the Grenfell Tower disaster. Risk aversion starts early. Children are nowadays less likely to walk to school on their own. Scotland is likely to become the first country in Europe to ban young footballers from heading the ball after research suggested they could be heading for dementia. When should statistical evidence of risk prompt a change of behaviour, either voluntary or state-enforced? Is it moral to accept a tiny level of personal risk for ourselves and our children, when the same statistics show that, across the population as a whole, that percentage risk adds up to hundreds or thousands of lost or ruined lives? Is risk-taking itself sometimes a good thing? In the world of economics it might cause a recession but it can also generate prosperity. In medicine a risky operation might kill the patient or it might be the way to save a life. Is it worth the risk of getting rid of risk? Featuring Kate Blincoe, Prof. Nick Chater, David Halpern and Dr Jamie Whyte

Producer: Dan Tierney.

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