Screwtape The Third: The Safe Road To H. E. L. L.

“You have something for me, Wormsap?”

“Yes, Master Screwtape. A remarkable holo smuggled from topside. Our ‘risk-free society’ campaign continues to contribute to shareholder values.”

“This had better be good, Wormsap. I’m still not happy about how you let the [ptui!] Adversary get that research published that alerted the topsiders to how ‘risk-free societies’ actually increase rates of teen suicides and dangerous behaviors. That revelation has to be losing us contracts!”

“A minor setback, sir, and easily compensated for. Observe. The setting is a major university in our territory. An administrator for one of the science schools is speaking with a safety consultant.”

*     *     *     *     *     

Consultant: “So you see, sir, your activities in any number of spheres, particularly in the sciences with all those laboratories and field trips and expeditions and whatnot, leave you exposed. Brutally exposed, to a wide range of risks. Any accident in any of these domains, and the resulting legal claims and actions could cripple you, if not break you.”

Administrator: “The football team seems to survive lots more than what you’ve got down here, on a daily basis.”

Consultant: “The football team has an audience and television contracts, and makes money. You have 10% annual budget hits, and Tim Eyman to remind you that you’re still sucking up tax dollars even so. As if I should have to remind you of this.”

Administrator: “I know. It’s bad.”

Consultant: “No. It’s good!

Administrator: “Good?”

Consultant: “You have the chance to empower your employees. Make them the drivers of your safety program. They are, after all, already on the payroll. And it’s not like their current teaching, research, and administrative duties take up all of their time. Businesses, especially big businesses, do this, have big programs to do this. For the successful ones, it’s a big part of their competitive advantage.”

Administrator: “And the way I’ve seen some of the professors manage their laboratories, they could use a safety wake-up call. That’s good.”

Consultant: “No, that’s bad.”

Administrator:Huh?

Consultant: “You just told me that your professors need safety training. Who’s going to give it to them? And who’s going to watch over them to make sure that they abide by their training? Who’s going to look after the paperwork that the watchers will generate to ensure compliance, and who’s going to manage the data that pours out of that paperwork? And do you remember just how the professors got that way?”

Administrator: “We took risks!

Consultant: “And you did that why?

Administrator: “Because that’s the only way we could get anything done with the money we had!”

Consultant: “I .. see. I guess you had to learn how not to kill yourselves the hard way.”

Administrator: “That’s the way it was. We had to learn to pay attention to what we were doing.”

Consultant: “Well, your lawyer will tell you it ain’t that way no more. People don’t expect to have to pay attention, they expect attention to be paid for them. How’s your maintenance budget?”

Administrator:What maintenance budget?”

Consultant: “Ah yes. 10% annual cuts and all that. Which means that your facilities are deteriorating … and becoming unsafe!

Administrator: “Yes …?”

Consultant: “Which, by law, you will have to bring up to code in order to continue operating. For which you will have to pay. And you will, by law, have to ensure that your faculty and staff get, and keep, up to date on all the safety requirements that will keep you from getting your pants sued off, and you will have to ensure that all the safety compliance is documented. For which you will have to pay. Your budget, unlike your football teams and the big businesses which do the only thing that really matters in this society – make big profits – is declining. How many faculty and staff are you going to lay off to get these things done?

Administrator:Ai!! That’s bad!!

Consultant: “No! That’s good!

Administrator:What?!?

Consultant: “Two points. First. No way that you science people, with your expensive contraptions and the small class sizes that are the only ones that will fit around the contraptions, can compete in a modern educational marketplace with classes that sit 500 people, live or electronically, around a guy with a computer. Especially when those classes persist on telling people that they’re ruining the planet by driving around all over the place … which doesn’t stop you from driving around all over the place yourselves! Bankrupting you with unfunded requirements makes the university leaner, meaner, more profitable. And without guilt! After all, you couldn’t conduct your operations safely and within your budget. Not our fault!”

Administrator: “And your second point?”

Consultant:I get paid for all this. Ka-ching!

*     *     *     *     *     

“OK, Wormsap. That’s good.”

“No, sir. That’s good!

“Argh. Don’t you start!”

“Only start what I intend to finish. Check the stack, sir.”

“My … you got contracts from them all?!?

“Woot.”

Lame, Wormsap, lame. That’s hooooooooowwwwwwwllll!!

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