I went along to an exhibition for Oakhill College and I was disturbed by the disregard to the many dangers that lurked for the hundreds of young and old visitors and students. Often we hear about dozens of people dying in a fire. Last week, 110 perished in Russia inside a night club. Can you imagine the sickening feeling of having to deal with those disasters? Lives lost carelessly. Can you imagine how the parents and friends cope with the thought that their loved-ones died in horrific, senseless situations? In Australia, we have strict OH&S (Occupational Health and Safety) laws. The board of directors is responsible to ensure that a committee is in place to remove all known hazards. What would an insurance company do when it later finds out that the losses could have been avoided? It will go after the Directors of the Board and strip each of them of their assets (sadly, I suspect that the Directors of this College are volunteers who might not be fully aware of their duties or their legal exposure). If a court were to find Directors negligent, they could face criminal charges, prison sentences, and financial ruin. With these in mind, I was appalled at what I saw at this otherwise excellent high school that was established in 1936 and whose enrolments exceed 1400 students. Here is how the story unfolded, as told in a letter to the Principal.
Dear Brother Ken
First I would like to congratulate you and your staff for preparing the Year 12 students in an admirable way. The exhibition held on Tuesday night was inspiring and enjoyable. Please thank the students, staff, and volunteers for their kind hospitality and delicious and generous snacks.
I write to you to highlight a few areas of OH&S that need some attention. I am always security- and safety-conscious. Upon entering the school grounds for the first time last night Tuesday 8 September, I noticed the metal fence along the perimeter. My first thought turned to how students might escape in case of an emergency. The sliding gates, in the dark of night, seemed to me to be a hazard for any form or egress. If the gates did have some non-electrical release mechanism, I failed to locate it in the dark.
Nonetheless, during the exhibition, I could smell something burning, perhaps a minor matter in the kitchen from the kind catering crew. I looked around to rehearse an escape and I was alarmed at what I noticed. I share some photos here with you for your reference.
The letter to the Principal concluded thus:
If your school does not provide a safe exit, I fear that whoever installed these gates for you might have failed to comply with standard OH&S regulations.
Please do not allow a disaster to become the catalyst for a full review. As a person highly experienced in these matters, the scenarios in my head were causing me great distress, and I wondered if you and your parent-community were aware of the real dangers.
Occasionally we read about dozens becoming trampled or several killed when they could not escape from a venue. It is negligence of this nature that creates untold misery. And while, thank God, nothing has happened so far, people might snigger and mock and dismiss these observations. Such people ought to go and hold the burnt corpse of a child, while its mother is contorting with hysteria and disbelieve.
If you do not have advisers whom you trust, I would be happy to visit your fine school and carry out another informal inspection for your personal benefit.
I would welcome your call if you feel that I might be of service.
The Principal wrote, ‘…I have passed your document on to the OH&S committee for their consideration…’