Britain, Culture, Dutch, Health, Netherlands

The Culture of Health and Safety: Ever Been Tempted to See What Happens if You Put Your Head in the Path of a Plane Propellor?

I recently returned to England for a couple of days and for the first time in many years I actually flew. The idea was to fly to Southampton from Amsterdam but some wise guy apparently thought parking our plane in the vicinity of Rotterdam was easier. Hence we were bussed from the Schiphol airport departure lounge to the plane. (For those not au fait with the British sense of humour, the plane was not actually parked in Rotterdam….. but it might as well have been given how long our bus ride was.)

We piled off the bus onto the Schiphol airport tarmac and formed a semi-orderly queue to go up the plane steps. (The reason I say semi-orderly is because there were Brits and many a Dutchman queueing. I think we all know which nationality was orderly and which nationality needs some serious queueing schooling and no one needs to be publicly shamed. Toch?) 

The plane was a little one. Not like a ‘two seater’ little one, but it certainly wasn’t a jumbo jet. The little plane had little propellors, which were slowly turning while we queued to get onto the plane.


Surprisingly no one leapt from the queue to put their head in the way of the propellors, just to see what would happen. In fact, no one moved out of the semi-orderly line at all and instead continued to shuffle forward to get on the plane. No deaths, beheadings, or even slight mutilations. Common sense and self-preservation prevailed.

My return flight from Southampton a few days later involved us walking a few meters from the departure gate to the airplane steps. Same type of airplane. Little. Same little propellors except this time there was no movement from them at all. However, we were all mighty relieved to know despite their non-movement we were kept safe by British health and safety measures.

Thanks to a fluorescent green band placed strategically around the side of the plane no passenger could end up in a dangerous life threatening incident. No passenger could any closer to the plane than the steps leading up to its front door. No chance of a confused pensioner heading for the back of the plane, no possibility that a tall Dutchman should bang his noggin against the wing and certainly no room for a freak accident involving a propellor and a curious passenger.


And if we hadn’t seen the fluorescent green tape lining the plane perimeter airport personnel donned in fluorescent green jackets were strategically placed to ensure no passenger straying. In short, the only way any passenger was getting anywhere near the plane was upwards via the steps.

I’ve heard lots of expats living in Britain talking about the craziness of health and safety policies there. I’ve also heard lots of things from family, particularly when they are over here in the Netherlands and pointing out situations that would NEVER be allowed in Britain. They comment that the British are no longer allowed to rely on common sense to keep themselves out of dangerous situations.


And my airport adventure showed me how justified those feelings are. The Dutch authorities trust that no one will be tempted to put their head into the path of a plane’s propellors. The British authorities remove the temptation altogether with fluorescent tape and staff in fluorescent jackets. Because you just never know. 

Has British health and safety gone too far? What are health and safety measures like where you live?


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6 thoughts on “The Culture of Health and Safety: Ever Been Tempted to See What Happens if You Put Your Head in the Path of a Plane Propellor?”

  1. The Americans seem to be of a similar mind as the Brits when it comes to providing safety (though I assume in the US it's mostly to avoid lawsuits than any altruistic intentions) and during the opportunities I've had to go back to the States I kind of have to laugh at the differences between there and NL. A lot of it is the difference I notice between US the NL deals with children and cars – States in the US are considering rules that would make some 12 year olds have to sit in car safety seats, while NL appears to have more suggestions rather than rules for car seats based on what I've seen. Though I think the craziest difference I've noticed was in Malta when I climbed to the top of the Azure Window: there were no safety rails or warning signs, just straight drops off the edge of the cliff into jagged rocks and water below, and people really were walking right up to the edge and looking down.It was the total opposite of my trip to the Grand Canyon where railings and signs were EVERYWHERE warning of accident and death because you're on the edge of a canyon.
    Sometimes I think the US goes overboard with it's rules and warnings, but sometimes I think it's necessary. Because someone somewhere WOULD stick their head by a propeller just to see what would happen.

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  2. Having lived both in the US and The Netherlands, i personally do not mind the warnings. Often times the Dutch seem to overlook the dangers (like pushing your infant in a stroller out onto the crosswalk before stepping out yourself) and trust others to be careful. Linda@Wetcreek Blog

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  3. This is brilliant… though I have to admit that I'd likely be the one who wanted to see what would happen! I find the same in Sweden – I'm used to it now, but almost daily when I first arrived I was amazed at the way cheerfully Swedes risk life and limb on a daily basis. I was quite impressed with it, until I set a sandwich on fire in a candlelit cafe and promptly fell out the window, and realised that maybe I need the British warnings 😉

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  4. Oh I have nightmares about my children falling over the edge of places like the Grand Canyon. I really appreciated the barriers there even though we didn't have children at the time. Children can fall off English cliffs as easy as they can pick their nose. It's worrying for worrypot parents like me! Funny how it all differs so much per country!

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