In the days following the tragic incident in Kozhikode wherein a young auto driver died while trying to save two migrant workers from a manhole, the social media was abuzz with discussions on the appropriateness of the action.
While most people commended on the heroism of the selfless youngster, some argued that he should not have taken the plunge without the precaution needed for the rescue action. The discussion, as you know, has since moved on to more irrelevant matters.
I must start by saying that it is not appropriate to personalise the debate on an important safety question. There is no doubt that Naushad was a true humanist who valued the life of others, including migrant labourers, highly. His sacrifice shows the best in human spirit, and surely his family should be supported financially and otherwise to make up for their tragic loss. Making negative comments on his action will distract people from listening to the important safety issues involved here. I have, however, often argued that one needs more than good intentions to attempt rescue operations. This is not to mean that rescue should only be attempted by trained persons or professionals of rescue systems such as the Fire and Safety Department.
Even in the case of major natural disasters, for which national and international rescue experts and systems are deployed, more people are rescued by those who happen to be around than by all the professional rescue systems put together. In situations such as drowning, there is so little time available for rescue that one cannot really count on official systems to effect the rescue. So, if we count only on official systems for rescue in all safety incidents, less lives will be saved. However, what is really possible is to increase the safety awareness and skills of the general public so that when confronted with a safety-related incident they are able to act in a professional manner. This will ensure a better chance of success in rescue efforts, and a lower chance of the rescuer getting harmed.
A society such as ours where people are willing to volunteer to do rescue works even without training is an appropriate foundation to start such efforts. What we need is to provide them with training and skills. Such efforts should start from schools by introducing children to the concepts of safety, right from day one. On the very first day in school, children should be briefed about the various safety hazards in the school and how to deal with them. Before special events like school excursion and sports events, safety should be discussed. Safety should be an integral part of the curriculum of professional and trade courses - from civil engineers to electricians. Only then we will have a safer society.
This does not mean that the present society is not able to do much to improve its safety awareness and preparedness for emergency response.
Instead of promoting the ongoing unnecessary debate on Naushad, it would be lot more productive and positive if autoworkers in the State start a campaign titled ‘I am Naushad’, whereby they will get trained in emergency response and first-aid.
As autoworkers are always on the road, they are likely to come across many safety-related incidents involving themselves and others. Being better prepared will help not only society, but also themselves.
But, safety training need not be just handled in a sentimental manner. The government can do a lot to promote the safety culture of the State by taking this tragic event as an opportunity.
The government can organise a training programme on emergency response, and make first aid mandatory for all professional drivers. It can also mandate that dangerous jobs, such an entering confined spaces, are done only by professionally trained workers. Currently, risky jobs - be it drain-cleaning or working with electricity - are all ‘outsourced’. As a result, untrained workers, often migrants, end up being victims of the lax procedures and supervision. Once better procedures and mandated training programmes are in place, such jobs will become better paid, attracting more qualified persons. Wouldn’t such changes be a more fitting tribute to Nausahd ?
(The author is a disaster management professional with over 20 years of experience in the private sector and in the United Nations. The views expressed are that of the author and not necessarily reflect that of the United Nations.)