Reducing risks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 April, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 April, 1996, 12:00am

To the survivors of the Pat Sin Leng hill fire, especially the six young people still painfully recovering in hospital and the relatives of those who died, the additional safety measures recommended by the fire inquiry must seem like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. Yet there may be some consolation for them in the knowledge that others may be spared similar agony as a result.

There is no doubt that more can and should be done to ensure the safety of walkers and other users of the country parks. The Government has not only accepted this, but committed itself to implementing all but one of the 29 recommendations within six months.

The pending coroner's inquest means the grim details of what happened, and any examination of who, if anyone, bears any blame cannot be disclosed. That is all to the good. What happened was a tragic accident, no more no less. With the details of the report in hand and the benefit of perfect hindsight one might be able to pinpoint some reaction which should have been faster, some panic decision which proved disastrous.

But no public breast-beating can restore the lives of the three students and two teachers who died. No amount of finger-pointing can help heal the horrific injuries of the survivors. On the contrary, bitterness and recrimination can only make the healing slower and more painful. The details will come out during the inquest. Let us hope that they are sensitively handled.

However, the recommendations of the interdepartmental review should not only be implemented as soon as possible - certainly before the next hiking season - they should be given the maximum publicity. Many safety procedures seem common sense when they are known and understood. But it is surprising how many walkers either ignore them or have never heard of them. Training and public education are vital. So, too, are efforts to upgrade training, equipment and deployment procedures for the emergency services. All these, the Government has readily taken on board. It is to be hoped nothing vital has been missed out or skimped on.

Sadly, there will always be accidents, and no one can predict when or where they will happen. But the risk of fatalities can be reduced if the public learns a few basic safety rules; and the emergency services are prepared to take the necessary efforts to put them into practice with speed and compassion. Only when all the checks and procedures are carried out will lives be saved.