Picture the scene: It's been snowing for two days. Some of the snow has now melted, leaving a layer of treacherous ice on the steps that lead up to your front door. Sensibly, you break open a bag of rock salt and do away with the nasty stuff before it leads to a broken bone or three. You find you've got some left over...so, in the bitter cold of a winter's night, you spread it over your neighbour's path. You watch it dissolve and enjoy the warm knowledge that they won't slip as they walk to their car in the morning.
Now picture this: The following morning, having walked down their perfectly clear path, your neighbour doesn't thank you...but tells you that you shouldn't grit other people's paths because you could get sued.
How would you feel? We felt sad.
These days, the fear of litigation takes precedence over altruism. If someone gritted your path thoroughly and you still slipped, would you blame them? We certainly wouldn't. Let's face it - at least they tried to help you.
Can it be true that the chance of getting money can make people blind to the helpfulness of others? It certainly looks that way.
It seems that if you sit back and do nothing, watch your neighbour fall and break their arm, you're safe. However, if you attempt to clear a neighbour's path and they still slip and injure themselves, you could face a hefty court case. In short, you could be sued for being helpful.
Surely spreading grit on ice is only going to make the situation better? Even if it doesn't dissolve the ice completely, it will stop it from re-freezing and the grit will add traction underfoot.
While the Met Office Website states, 'Don't be put off clearing paths because you're afraid someone will get injured. Remember, people walking on snow and ice have a responsibility to be careful themselves.' I for one am now very wary of trying to help out. I'll do it for my family - but no longer for anyone else without asking. If they give me their full consent, then I'll help...but I won't be doing it out of the impromptu kindness of my own heart any more.
'Compensation Culture' has reached new levels of ridiculousness. People need a bit of grit - in both senses.
Huge thanks to Rachel Jones of A470 Training for retweeting the link to this blog and for enlightening me on the birth of 'Gritgate'.
This debate reached boiling point in 2010 and it all stemmed from misinformation published in The Sunday Telegraph and The Daily Mail. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health has never stated that gritting public pathways could lead to legal action if somebody is injured.
So, really, it's an urban myth that was created by shoddy journalism. The question is - has the damage already been done? I'm not sure I want to face castigation every time I try to help someone who still believes that I shouldn't be gritting my neighbours' paths.
But then...if everyone thought like that, nobody would help anyone any more...
Hmm. Think I'll be buying a few more bags tomorrow. Ninja Gritters unite!