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Our View: Why does it always take loss of life to spark safety measures?

The recent bus crash: Christos Theodorides

FORESIGHT on issues of safety has rarely been shown by the authorities. Only when disaster strikes, often with loss of life, do they decide that certain precautionary measures should be taken and safety rules are tightened.

The Mari explosion, five years ago, which killed 13 people and destroyed a brand new power station causing additional problems to a struggling economy, was the most tragic example of this indifference to safety by the authorities. Containers packed with highly explosive material were left in out in the open in the sweltering summer heat, without anyone considering there was a danger. Once disaster struck and lives were lost, the ministry of defence decided to inspect all its ammunitions depots and ensure storage conditions were safe.

But nothing was learnt from this. We have witnessed the same attitude on several occasions in the last few weeks. Earlier this month, there was a car crash, involving a bus, outside Nicosia, in which the bus driver who was not wearing a seat belt was hurled through the windscreen on impact and killed. After the event, it was revealed that the town buses did not have seat-belts which were not considered necessary by the road transport department.

Buses always passed their inspections without a driver seat-belt. Once the accident happened and a father of five lost his life, the road transport department announced it would clamp down on buses without driver seat-belts, while the bus company OSEL pleaded for some time because it had to fit seat belts into 80 buses.

We are strong on safety after the tragedy. Last week in the Paphos district, a 15-year-old boy was killed when the tractor he was driving overturned and crushed him. It was an old style tractor that did not have a safety cabin, which could have saved the boy’s life. A few months earlier a 64-year-old man suffered the same fate while ploughing his field.

The Green Party issued an announcement last week saying that it had been warning about the risks of using old tractors without a safety cabin since 2003, but nothing had been done. No measures had been taken, because, as one deputy said – the issue had been discussed at the House several times but no decision taken – old tractors could not be fitted with a safety cabin and impoverished farmers could not afford to buy a new tractor. In other words, the authorities decided it was better for farmers to use the old tractors, with the risk of death, rather than coming up with a loan scheme to help them buy a new one.

A deputy said that the government should seek funding from the EU for a scheme that would replace the old tractors with new ones with safety cabins. Perhaps a couple more fatal accidents are needed before the authorities decide the safety of farmers is an issue worth addressing.

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