Safety Match

by Fargy

Why is a safety match called a safety match? Why should we not play with matches? Fire is the embodiment of the dual nature of Safety/Risk.

We have some evidence that our ancestors used fire some 400,000 years ago, with sketchy evidence for possibly three times as long ago.

It shows our constant battle to control this flammable servant has been taking place over a long period of time.

And we still have trouble controlling it.

Let's have a look at the smallest fire-stick.

A fiery red head.

The safety match is our fire in a pocket.

But it's not called a safety match merely because it help prevent accidental ignition in our pants.

It was the white phosphorus that was the real danger.

Now we use red phosphorous and it's much safer with the strike pad being on the outside of the box and the matches inside.

White phosphorus match heads were highly toxic.

There was enough in one box to kill a person.

Children could eat the heads of the matches and die, and people ate them in suicide cases.

Workers making the white phosporous matches would get various bone disorders, including phossy jaw.

This small struggle to find the best way to put fire in a small box took us from around 1816 with François Derosne's briquet phosphorique until 1911 when U.S. President Taft wrote to the Diamond Match Company asking them to release their patent safety matches for the good of mankind.

Which they did!

Warms the heart that they did so.

Perfect Match

Safety matches show how even over hundreds of years we still don't have perfect control.

The modern saga of the safety match took a hundred years, but in China, Cho Keng Lu, written in 1366, describes a sulfur match.

So the battle to pocket fire has burned on for a while.

And we never will find an ending.

Part of the reason for that is told in the dictum,

"Don't play with matches."

We age.

We are at most risk of fire in our first few years and our last.

We have a bell curve of ability, where the early years put us at risk because of lack of knowledge and curiousity, and in our later years is determined by encroaching infirmities through the natural aging process.

Age is one of those factors that constantly effects us in our struggle to control risk.

Weather is too.  Cold nights see more heaters and fireplaces used, which increases the risk of uncontrolled fire.

Genie in a box.

Fire is our genie.

We have tamed it for all intents and purposes, but every tame pet can be dangerous.

Safety matches show how everyday some of our safety controls are.

Safety is one of those things that can be so taken for granted that we don't see it in every day life, only noticing it when we attend a work function with the heading Safety in it.

But a box of matches is a good reminder.

It took over a hundred years to evolve into its present state and reminds us that Safety will always be this way.

It will be slow, it will suffer setbacks, but if we have that perspective we can make things happen faster.  Because we have stepped back we can see the broader view and plan better.

So if some Safety issue is burning you up in the present, step back, breathe deep and look to history for a guide before you look to the future.

And don't forget to talk to people, that's what President Taft did.


Other safety articles.

Safety has a boring reputation, when it's really a wild child of the imagination.
Safety evolves not only in our personal lives and experiences but in our societal structures. Our rules of the game as it were. Each rule is paid for in blood.
Updated: 10/18/2013, Fargy
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