Editorial: Unsightly blemishes on our safety record

Last updated 05:00 16/12/2013

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In one of its less PC moments, The Southland Times once cheerfully reported that for blind people Invercargill had more hazards "than you could shake a stick at".

Life isn't easy for people with impaired vision, though it shouldn't be as hard as the rest of us sometimes make it.

A case in point arose when Invercargill man Victor West fell more than a metre into a hole in the pavement in Clifton St.

He hurt his leg to the extent that he needed to see a doctor and he messed up his clothing, and - this is not such a small point, either - it was a heart-pounding shock.

The rest of us know how it feels if we just step off a kerb and our foot drops just a few centimetres more than we were expecting.

Reasonably enough, Mr West complained to the Invercargill City Council. That was in August.

The council's contractor, Downer Construction, has been in touch and paid for the doctor visit and drycleaning. But he has received neither the council apology nor the followup contact that he was expecting.

The lack of a promised communication from the council itself was, it seems, a matter of forgetfulness and it also appears that communication between the council and the contractor has been flawed.

Neither of that is especially impressive but what really matters is that Mr West was seeking more than a satisfactory "sorry". He wanted reassurance that this would not happen to him, or others, in future.

He says there were "terribly lax safety measures". Downer gives an assertion, emphatic if generic, that it "complies with all relevant legislation, regulations, code of practice and safe operating procedures".

Not to be nitpicky, but the man did fall down a hole, even so.

And in circumstances under which he can hardly be scolded for not looking where he was going.

So either blind people really need to lift their game . . . hmmm . . . or the relevant rules aren't adequate, or they weren't scrupulously applied after all.

We don't know which of those situations really applies here.

Which we should. It's been ages. Surely they've got to the bottom of it by now.

We should note that the council says it often updates volunteers for the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind about possible hazards.

In itself, that's commendable. However, the blind do face obstacles that go beyond civic works getting underfoot.

Shops are fond of their sandwich boards and not necessarily scrupulous about where they place them.

Some householders let tree branches just out (often at eye level) over footpaths.

And the Windsor bus's automated announcement system still assures blind passengers that they are stepping off into Chelmsford St when they aren't. It's Layard St.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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