Dig this, dad – there are some things (such as tunnelling) that a lad should learn the hard way

This subway collapse shows even the professionals have lessons to learn...

This subway collapse in China shows even the professionals have lessons to learn…

Alf has a great deal of sympathy for the parents of a lad who has learned an important lesson about digging tunnels.

He heaved his dismay, however, when he learned that health and safety officials had been whistled in to find out what went wrong when a pile of soil collapsed in the McKenzie Country.

What went wrong is bleeding obvious: the lad’s tunnelling ambitions were much too ambitious, his choice of terrain into which to tunnel was ill-informed and his technique was flawed.

Nevertheless we’ve got two investigations under way to examine how a 3m dirt pile collapsed on top of a boy in Twizel at the weekend.

Deon Miller, 12, had been playing with friends digging holes in the mound of top soil at a former reserve on Glen Lyon Rd in the town when he was almost buried about 10am on Saturday.

His friends tried to rescue him, before his father, Craig Miller, managed to drag him out from under the soil.

Deon was unconscious, but started breathing again once his airways were cleared of dirt, Mr Miller told Radio New Zealand this morning.

“Once the airways were cleared out he was back breathing by himself, and he kept on fighting, he hasn’t stopped fighting yet.”

The boy spent yesterday in the intensive care unit at Dunedin Hospital.

It is understandable that the anguished father would have been highly distraught by what happened.

But the lad has been transferred out of ICU, at time of writing, and was expected to make a full recovery.

His dad nevertheless  told Radio New Zealand he wanted a health and safety investigation into the incident to ensure no one else was hurt in similar circumstances.

But hold on…

The similar circumstances could only come about if (a) someone dumped a pile of topsoil somewhere, a not uncommon happening, and (b) a kid decided to try tunnelling into it.

The pile of top soil in this case was situated on a former Mackenzie District Council reserve which is set to be sectioned off and sold.

The incident will be subject to an internal district council investigation and has been referred to WorkSafe New Zealand..

Here’s what happened according to council chief executive Wayne Barnett:

The top soil had been stock-piled on the site following some soil testing work, but the council had not been aware that children were using it to play on, he said.

“What has happened evidently is kids have been playing there and have dug themselves a bit of a cave or tunnel in the top soil and unfortunately that’s collapsed on one of them,” he said.

“We have a large number of stock-piles of various materials around, predominantly they’re gravel-type material that just collapse so there’s no ability to dig into them.

“We’re undertaking an investigation at the moment to see what other materials are around and what measures we should take in light of what’s happened.”

There had been no security or safety measures at the site to cordon the soil mound off from the public, Barnett said, and the land was still open to the public.

But why should security or safety measures have been needed?

There is no reason – except that we are supposed to anticipate every silly possibility and then provide safeguards to ensure possibility does not become improbable reality.

As Barnett said:

“We hadn’t been specifically aware that kids were playing in there, although having said that, we’re not hugely surprised.”

He added: “It certainly wasn’t something that we had foreseen. Hindsight’s a tremendous educator really.”

WorkSafe NZ has confirmed it is on the case and preliminary inquiries have begun.

We must therefore brace for new demands not so much to protect adventurous kids but to put them in cotton wool so they do not learn the hard way about why it’s not smart to try digging into a pile of topsoil.

Kids will find it doesn’t pay to try tunnelling into sandhills either, if we don’t provide safeguards.

Alf foresees lots of fences being put up around the country to ensure they never learn the hard way.


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