Last Monday was Three Kings’ Day. Throughout the land adults handed children pieces of cake to eat in the certain knowledge that each cake contained a piece of hard plastic almost the same colour as the dough itself. It is a difficult concept for the British to understand; a child could so easily choke on such an foreign body in their food, or at best crack a tooth.

Yet somehow Swiss children are brought up to be so careful that they neither choke to death or have to be rushed off to the dentist. Just as surprising Swiss bakers have no fear of being sued by angry parents of injured children.

British children are so prone to danger that such innocent items as plastic bags need large messages on them warning parents not to give them to their offspring to play with lest they put the bag over their young heads and suffocate. British bag manufacturers supply their products with holes in to facilitate breathing for the children of parents who cannot read the warnings. The only messages on Swiss plastic bags is about them being recyclable.

Such is the Swiss ability to deal with dangers of life that I discovered to my horror that we were expected to lock the front door of our first flat we rented in Switzerland with a key every night between 8pm and 6am. The only way we could open the front door was with a key. Why was I horrified? In case there was a fire. We lived on the second floor. I had images of feeling my way down a smoke-filled staircase to escape, only to find the front door locked and my key still two floors up somewhere in our flat. There were neither fire escape, nor fire-retarding doors on each floor, nor emergency lighting powered by battery, nor a smoke alarm, nor exit doors that can always be opened from the inside without a key. All of which are required by law in the UK in any building occupied by more than one family. We were by no means unique in being locked in at night, I soon discovered that many Swiss flat dwellers are locked in at night.

Fortunately we were able to survive the four years we lived there without a fire breaking out. Just as last month we survived another Swiss Christmas without burning our house to the ground thanks to real candles on a real Christmas tree. The rest of the world has long since realised the dangers of mixing fir and fire and are content with electric lights on their trees. We British are even content with a plastic tree that can be re-used each year

Switzerland really has a remarkable attitude towards safety, both in the home and public places. On discovering the potential fire trap we were living in, I went out to buy a smoke alarm to put on the ceiling of our flat. These are available widely throughout the UK and USA for about Fr12 and simply require a battery and can be attached to a hall ceiling with double sided sticky tape. At the first sign of smoke they emit a piercing alarm and alert the occupants of a flat to the danger of fire before the smoke asphyxiates them: most deaths being caused by smoke not the fire itself. One has to look long and hard In Switzerland to find a smoke alarm and when located, expect to pay Fr50 upwards.

It is some 20 years since UK TV consumer programmes warned of the dangers of lifts in Spanish hotels without inner doors. Once again British children were at the source of the problem and were losing arms in these lifts in horrific accidents. Yet what do I see in office buildings here? Lifts without inner doors. But here everyone still has both arms attached.

The ski season is upon us and responsible parents will equip their children with crash helmets for skiing and snowboarding. But after a day’s safe skiing, the helmets are removed and put in the trunk of the car and those same children often travel loose in the back of the car without either a child safety seat or a seat belt while those same parents drive at 120kph (or more), bumper to bumper on the journey home. I have witnessed children loose in cars many times and seen them even seated on the laps of front seat passengers.

It is remarkable to me, as an Englishman who even uses a seat belt when parked, how many drivers in Switzerland drive without seat belts – even though you can receive an on-the-spot fine for so doing. Only 66% of Swiss drivers wear seat belts in towns. But if 93% of drivers wore seat belts, as in the UK, the Swiss police would lose a valuable source of income. Sit on a bus or tram and look at the passing traffic, you’ll soon see what I mean. The so-called professional drivers are the worst offenders – truck, van and taxi drivers including, quite incredulously, the police themselves.

Perhaps the difference in our two countries’ attitude to safety is shown in warning signs. In German-speaking Switzerland signs warn of “Lebensgefahr” [life danger] in England this is “Todesgefahr” [danger of death].