Health & Safety Gone Mad

The HSE has long been blamed for infuriating health and safety decisions. Like ’em or loath ’em for being a government body that may not even be necessary, it is true that they are not responsible for much of the madness we have encountered this past few decades.

In another fight back they have published a list of the ten worst examples of health and safety gone mad. More often than not, these petty rules and the myths that arise from them come from litigation fearing jobsworths who do not understand how the legislation is supposed to work.

I recall hearing a story shortly after the introduction of the working at height regulations. A streetlamp in Kendall remained un repaired because the company responsible refused to send a worker up to fix it –  because of health and safety and the new regulations, which “banned ladders”. This was patently daft. The new regulations did not as some claimed, ban ladders or prevent people from working at height. What they did was insist that  employers conduct a risk assessment and apply a system that minimised the risk and if that meant using a cherry picker in preference to a ladder, so be it. Common sense, frankly. If you have to spend more than half an hour up a ladder, perhaps this is not the best method for the work. However, if you are a window cleaner, then likely as not, it is –  just make sure it is secure before shinning up it.

Now many –  me included –  might argue that we have too much legislation. However, it isn’t the plethora of legislation that is responsible for the utter madness of some of the decisions we have come across in recent years, because the legislation is underpinned by sound common sense. It is because people don’t understand the legislation and are afraid of being sued, which is a far greater problem than the binge legislation emanating from Brussels, frankly.

Basic health and safety management is staggeringly simple: Identify the risk and who is affected by it and manage it to ensure that it is reduced to as low as is reasonably practicable. There are about 8 million words of legislation that boil down to that basic underpinning principle. Too many? Yup. But that principle is sound.

The madness of the health and safety culture is due to something else entirely –  a risk averse, mollycoddled, litigious society that wants to be wrapped in cotton wool. Unfortunately that would be dangerous as we might suffocate.

11 comments for “Health & Safety Gone Mad

  1. Mudplugger
    April 12, 2012 at 9:03 am

    The ‘Health & Safety Gone Mad” state is actually the symptom, not the root-cause. It can all be traced back to the start of ‘no-win-no-fee’ legal services.

    Any organisation, private or public, now is coerced by its insurers to enagage in demonstrable risk-avoidance, simply in order that, when the inevitable free-to-use lawyer turns up representing some low-brow low-life, they can demonstrate that they have taken every reasonable step to eliminate the possibility of a claim-event.

    The Insurers then face the dilemma of whether to offer a couple of grand just to get rid of the irritant (plus the helpful lawyer’s charges) in order to avoid a court case likely to cost them £20k whether they win or lose. Either way, it costs.

    The only winners in all this are the lawyers, the losers are all of us.

    Solution – make ‘conditional fees’ illegal again. Sorted.
    But then Parliament is full of lawyers……

  2. Jim
    April 12, 2012 at 11:14 am

    I think part of the problem is that so much is left up to the individual, company or body. No-one is quite sure what they have to do to comply, and the HSE doesn’t help. If I rang up and said can I do X, Y or Z, they wouldn’t tell me if that was safe or not, because they wouldn’t want to commit themselves either, in the case of a lawsuit. So all the onus comes down to the individual and the consequences of a lawsuit can be so problematic to a small business or individual that its not worth the candle. So everyone just takes the line of minimum resistance, and minimum risk.

    The trouble is everything in life is a risk to some extent, and its a case of where do you draw the line? The HSE won’t tell you, can’t really as there are so many billion individual situations.

    H&S law needs a complete overhaul that make compliance (and thus freedom from being sued) much more clear cut, and not down to an individuals own point of view.

    • April 12, 2012 at 11:56 am

      You’ve already highlighted the problem with that approach.

      The HASAWA (1974) was a masterpiece of all-encompassing legislation that said in essence what I did in my penultimate paragraph. Prior to that, we had legislation that was precise but coverage was piecemeal – which is why the children of Aberfan were not covered by the law when the slag heap collapsed on them. Under the HASAWA, they would have been, as it is designed to cover all workplaces and everyone affected by the work.

      The problem with such an approach is that people are unable to make simple common sense assessments of risk and apply simple common sense management regimes.

      Another alternative would be to repeal statute law and leave it in the hands of common law and the courts. Don’t know which would be worse, frankly.

      • Jim
        April 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm

        “The problem with such an approach is that people are unable to make simple common sense assessments of risk and apply simple common sense management regimes.”

        Its impossible to work under such an all encompassing legal framework when society has moved on from a sensible ‘accidents happen’ attitude, to one of ‘someone is responsible for all accidents’. Thus any accident, however small, and however unforeseen, can result in a claim for damages.

        Its all a matter of attitude. I was once in a train crash in Australia. The train hit a truck on a level crossing in the middle of nowhere and derailed. Fortunately no-one was seriously hurt. I was totally unscathed. I didn’t sue the train company, I just asked for (and got) my out of pocket expenses (missed flights/extra hotel costs) to be reimbursed. I’m sure I could have sued for thousands for emotional distress etc, and perhaps other passengers did. But I considered it one of those things that happens, I wasn’t hurt, so get on with life. I was much more worried about England’s Ashes prospects to waste time on lawsuits. Such attitudes are sadly few and far between these days. Where there’s blame theres a claim etc etc.

        Unless something is done to prevent low level damage claims, the gradual increase in restrictions on activities for fear of H&S claims will only increase.

        The UK is usually 10-20 years behind the USA in most cultural things. This claim culture has been imported from there. Unless we do something radical now to stop it, we will continue down the same path they have travelled.

  3. April 12, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Did anyone see the story of the 25 firemen that turned up to watch a local wildlife rescue volunteer pull on his waders and rescue a trapped seagull in 3ft of water?

    They wouldn’t go in for the seagull, citing ‘H&S’.

    • Mudplugger
      April 12, 2012 at 8:35 pm

      Would those be the same 25 firemen who will soon be on the picket-lines aiming to protect their fire-station which is now nowhere near the need-area, their half-day table-tennis practice sessions, then the time spent terrorising pensioners about smoke-alarms, their second jobs involving ladder-work and their early and excessive pensions, and who then turn up mob-handed in multiple gargantuan trucks at the slightest whiff of smoke, just to get out from those four boring walls ?
      OK, when you need a fireman, you need a fireman, but not in the vast numbers currently under-employed in every region. Another sacred cow overdue for slaughter methinks.

      • Greg Tingey
        April 13, 2012 at 9:42 am

        Yes the same firemen who averted a spreading house fire in the block across from me a week back … everyone saved, the fire contianed to ONE terraced house.
        Yes, overpaid, and if cut down on numbners, it would have spread through the terrace.
        You’re an idiot – & are the right wing of the tory party paying you to write this guff?

        • Mudplugger
          April 13, 2012 at 11:21 am

          Methinks he doth protest too much.

  4. Greg Tingey
    April 13, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Most people are very bad a t evaluating real risk.
    It involves statistics,a dnthat “discredited science” that some idiot was waffling on about in another post.

    Example – a human life is valued at approx £10 million on the railways – if it costs LESS than £10 million, and is reckoned to save one life a year, it gets done.
    On the roads, a human life is worth somewhere between £30 & 60k, if that.
    Compare the casualty rates!

    • April 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm

      Most people are very bad a t evaluating real risk.

      Actually, I would dispute that, having trained the subject and got people to do just that. Once common sense kicks in, people are very good ate evaluating risk as it is something we all do every day of our lives to a greater or lesser extent.

      This is not the same as quantified risk assessment that is used to make spending decisions as the cost of compensation and prosecution is taken into account along with the knock-on costs of making changes to infrastructure and stock, not to mention public outrage risk. Which is why it is so much higher on the railways than the roads.

  5. Greg Tingey
    April 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    PROVIDED they are trained.
    Perhaps I should have added the qualifier …”Most untrained people …..”
    But getting the training and education across is the difficult bit!

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