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Gorillas and Risk Assessments

Gorillas and Risk Assessments

GlobeA recent and very sad story about an uninformed vet working at a zoo in Tenerife set me thinking about risk assessments and contingency planning this week. Apparently, the poor vet accidentally shot a colleague, who was dressed as a gorilla, with a tranquilliser gun during an emergency training exercise. It was all part of contingency planning as to how staff should respond in an emergency situation involving these heavyweight animals. Protection of visitors, staff and the animals is, of course, very important for such establishments. Indeed, the very fact that the zoo had a training exercise in place at all impressed me.

I often think that the people of the Canary Islands have far more in common with Cuba or Venezuela than Peninsular Spain. Laid back attitudes to life, as well as the ‘sloppy’ version of the Castellano language, are more reminiscent of Latin America than the rather crisper approach to life demonstrated in Madrid. Risk assessment and contingency planning for something that may never happen is usually seen as unnecessary at best, and foolish at worst. I guess that this is one of the hardest things that I have had to come to terms with during my time living and working in Spain and the Canary Islands.

As a teacher, my life was always linked to ‘what if?’ scenarios. Ensuring the safety of children in our care was, quite rightly, of paramount importance. Plans and polices for health and safety, child protection, fire and civil emergencies, were all painfully written, discussed, checked, approved and regularly reviewed. Contingency plans for staff absences, inclement weather, cycling safety, bus timetabling changes, quality of school meals (before the kitchens were closed), were often the stuff of staff and governors’ meetings. As for preparing the curriculum and actually teaching the children, we usually managed to fit that in as well.

How different things are in Spain. When my partner and I launched, edited and ran a local newspaper on the island for a company in the Peninsular, I remember asking that, as we were a ‘two-man band’, what the plans were if one or both of us became ill or would like to take a holiday together. I remember the boss laughing and telling me that I was creating unnecessary problems. To me, it was little more than simple contingency planning, a sensible ‘what if?’ plan, in case the worst should happen. As it happened, the worst case scenario did happen and there was no contingency plan, but that is a story for another time.

The current popular situation with employment contracts in the Canary Islands, usually means that after eleven months of work, the employee is ‘laid off’ for a month and has to report to the unemployment office to claim benefit. The job that the employer used to fulfil is left vacant for a month and either colleagues are expected to work harder to fill the gap, or the job is not done until the absent colleague returns to work one month later. Unlike working in the UK, covering for absent colleagues simply does not happen over here.

There is precious little in the way of risk assessments and contingency planning that takes place in the Canary Islands. Life is dealt with, or not dealt with, as it happens. If the postman takes a holiday, our letters are not delivered for a few weeks. If the owner of the village cafe bar’s wife has a baby, the cafe bar remains closed for a few weeks. Should bank counter staff be ill, there is no one at the counter who is able to assist customers until they have recovered. After all, it does not lead to the end of the world, does it?

I have had to adjust my view of life to meet the situation that we are in now. However, I do applaud the good people operating the Tenerife zoo. In some ways, the freedom of not planning for ‘what if’ scenarios is refreshing and liberating. However, I often wish that a little more contingency planning would take place, just in case the worst should happen. Meanwhile, I can report that the man in the gorilla suit is recovering well and still talking to his colleague.

 

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: www.barriemahoney.com and www.thecanaryislander.com or read his book, ‘Letters from the Atlantic’
©Barrie Mahoney