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all this health & safety paranoia is making me ill
by richard cole

All this Health and Safety paranoia is making me ill. In good ole Britain it’s got to the point where it’s laughable. Every organisation is hiding behind H&S. Common sense is now an endangered species. Common sense spotters swap details about where it can be found and gather eagerly hoping to catch a glimpse. Its natural habitat is being eroded.

I have a friend who is a site manager on a big building project. If one of his workers is blind enough to fall down a hole, it’s the site manager’s fault. If one of them is stupid enough to lean too far and fall off a ladder, it’s the site manager’s fault. If one of them breaks a finger nail, it’s the site manager’s fault. I asked him how it was his fault. “Health and Safety,” he replied.

Even the Queen is not immune. She is currently in a bit of a row with the organisers of the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo over whether she is capable of climbing 17 stairs to a podium. Her representatives insist she is capable and regularly manages the 47 steps of the grand staircase at Buckingham Palace without so much as a scratch and that she will not attend if prevented from viewing the Tattoo from the podium.
A spokeswoman for the Tattoo said it was nothing to do with the Queen’s age, rather that the stairs were not suitable for anyone who was not trained to use them. For goodness sake, how much training does a person need to use stairs, most of us can do it by the time we’re five.

Office workers in London were prevented last year from putting up Christmas decorations in case they fell whilst doing so and sued their employer. Fairy lights were also banned in order to meet safety standards.

Another Council has banned it’s swimming pools lending out inflatable arm bands over Health and Safety fears around infectious diseases when different parents blow the inflatables up. And what if one of them started to deflate, shock, horror! Well I guess we’d have to risk our lives inflating it again. Parents have inflated arm bands for their children for at least the last fifty years and I’ve never heard of one instance where a mass pandemic has been caused.

In the north of England, yet another Council has removed all goal posts from a children’s playing field because walkers might bump into them whilst reading a map. (They left the street lights, basket ball posts and swings.) How do you explain the logic of that to an eight year old?

The winter just gone was the worst we experienced for half a century. There were many minor road accidents caused by people driving too fast for the conditions and bumping into each other or sliding off the road. The complaint we heard continually was “Why aren’t the Council out clearing the roads of snow and ice.”
Not once did I hear or read of anyone fitting winter tyres or snow chains.

But here’s the paradox. The Health and Safety Executive are, by and large, doing a good job trying to reduce the million or so accidents at work we have here every year. There are as many Health and Safety myths as there are genuine stories and it’s easy for organisations to hide behind Health and Safety legislation. So this raises the question why it appears that so many organisations, including the Government, have become like over anxious nannies.

One possible explanation is that everything in this country in now someone else’s fault. The idea of personal responsibility has gone. Your child does badly at school? Sue the school with no thought that it actually might be the child’s fault because they are badly behaved. You trip on a paving stone? Sue the Council, never mind that you should have been looking where you were going.

What organisations fear most is litigation. We are becoming an increasingly litigious society. Some see it as a way to make easy money, others as a way of scoring one for the little guy. There are whole law firms now who promise to win huge compensation for you or you pay no fee. Insurance companies, who provide the third party or professional indemnity cover, are setting such tight rules in an attempt to avoid paying out that organisations have been forced to abandon common sense and impose increasingly bizarre directives on their staff.

So, as usual, it’s all about money and greed.

What we need here, as I see it, is the welcome and overdue return of common sense and personal responsibility.

I’d better stop writing this now as my Health and Safety approved chair is giving me back ache!


I live in Suffolk, England with my family. After teaching for years I ended up in a high octane job in London advising the UK government on educational stuff. I retired early to pursue my writing career. Now, I write and ride a ridiculously large motor cycle, although not at the same time.

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adam kraemer
4.12.10 @ 1:08a

I think the trick is to do what we do over here in the U.S.: cover everything with disclaimers. "Warning: do not fall off ladder." "Danger: do not drive with sun shield in place." "Do not touch hot iron to your tongue."

We've been overly litigious for a while now, and slowly the companies are learning. Sure, it doesn't stop people from suing them, but it sure makes it less likely that the complainant will walk away with anything more than their lawyer's bill.

It also requires a legal system prepared to avoid indulging these idiots in their claims. The more judges there are who throw out frivolous lawsuits, the fewer of those lawsuits there will be. It doesn't require Health and Safety to be hyper-vigilant; it requires people to know that their stupid lawsuits will bring them more shame and less money.

teymur roshdi
6.7.10 @ 4:41p

Maybe the best thing to do is just going and living in developping countries where everything is 'safe' and 'healthy',no warning alert or so, because nobody cares, life and death are For Free , not expensive at all,LOL!

jane dode
6.13.10 @ 2:15p

I belive that a lot of times individuals who hear about the latest "bug" or flu out there and get freaked and fearful and actually develop the symptoms by meditating on them. Then, the health system, with their money and greed takes advantage of them, like you said.

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