Tuesday, 19 October 2010

'The health and safety aspect of the story is a media addition'

Here's what Richard Littlejohn said about health and safety on 21 September 2010:

For the past 15 years, this column has made a good living out of elf 'n' safety. Now, though, the Government is promising to put an end to the madness, scrapping the stupid rules and risk assessments, and derailing the spiv lawyers cashing in on the com-pen-say-shun culture.

No one has told Lancaster City Council, which has banned revellers from watching the city's annual fireworks display from Castle Hill, citing - you guessed - elf 'n' safety,

Even though it has taken place for the past 18 years without anyone getting hurt. Looks like there's still some mileage in it for me yet.

And here's what he says today:

Lord Young’s report on elf’n’safety stupidity was long overdue and his recommendations sensible — particularly over the spiv lawyers at Blame Direct and the hyper-cautious risk assessment industry.

But he’s got his work cut out. Over the weekend, the new, touchy-feely sunflower seeds exhibition at Tate Modern was closed down because of fears it could bring on asthma attacks...

Another report highlighted the loss of most of Britain’s historic cobbled streets, which are being dug up and buried under Tarmac by councils on the off-chance someone might slip over and sue for com-pen-say-shun.

This column has made a good living out of elf’n’safety over the years. If Lord Young succeeds, I’m out of a job.

Fortunately, given the stubborn endurance and bloody-mindedness of the British bureaucrat, I’m confident there’ll be some mileage in it for a few years yet.

It seems there is one type of recycling that Littlejohn thinks is acceptable...

But there's some interesting points made in the Young Report that Littlejohn has conveniently overlooked. Such as:

Britain’s ‘compensation culture’ is fuelled by media stories about individuals receiving large compensation payouts for personal injury claims and by constant adverts in the media offering people non-refundable inducements and the promise of a handsome settlement if they claim.


One of the great misconceptions, often perpetuated by the media, is that we can be liable for the consequences of any voluntary acts on our part. During winter 2009/10, advice was given on television and radio to householders not to clear the snow in front of their properties in case any passer by would fall and then sue.

This is another manifestation of the fear of litigation. In fact there is no liability in the normal way, and the Lord Chief Justice himself is reported as saying that he had never come across a case where someone was sued in these circumstances.


We have all read countless media stories blaming health and safety regulations for all manner of restrictions on our everyday life...

The Health and Safety Executive runs a successful ‘myth of the month’ page on its website; however, there is no end to the constant stream of misinformation in the media.

Again and again ‘health and safety’ is blamed for a variety of decisions, few of which actually have any basis in health and safety legislation at all.

Young looks at three health and safety stories that he says are myths. One is the case of the Dovedale stepping stones, which hit the headlines in August. 'Dovedale's iconic stepping stones paved over amid health and safety fears', screeched the Mail. 'Concrete slabs placed on historic stepping stones due to health and safety', huffed the Telegraph.

Young says:

Like so many health and safety stories in the media, the renovation of the Dovedale stepping stones has nothing at all to do with health and safety.

The stones date from the Victorian era but over time had weathered and sunk down into the river bed, thereby becoming uneven. Some had sunk to such a degree that the route became inaccessible for parts of the year. The only other route across the river is via a footbridge up a narrow scree slope, which is harder to access.

The stones are on National Trust land but as they form part of a public right of way Derbyshire County Council is responsible for maintaining them. Therefore the National Trust asked the council to look at the stones. This resulted in the stones being raised to their original height. Similar renovation methods have been used in the past.

The issue here was that a public right of way had become inaccessible. It seems that the health and safety aspect of the story is a media addition.

And, as this blog mentioned in a post about media articles about 'bans' that aren't really bans at all, Littlejohn and his ilk will continue to get their 'mileage' out of it if they keep exaggerating or inventing these 'health and safety' stories.


  1. Good piece Mac.

    Most of the Elf n Safety scares aren't about laws and regulations anyway. These are common law laibilities which have existed since the 1930s. The only difference is that people are now more wiling to sue and, thanks to the likes of Littlejohn, much more scared of their potential (but highly unlikely) liabilities.

    My take here:


  2. Excellent piece. I love the comparison between Littlejohn's nonsense and Lord Young's report. It's clear that Littlejohn hasn't bothered reading the report itself, but then, that's no surprise. He seems to base most of his opinions on what he's read in The Fail that week.

  3. Health & Safety isn't taken seriously in the Health Authority & University that I work in.

    The only time I hear about H & S in the media is after someone has been killed.

  4. I love this from page 20 of the report

    Anybody looking at a construction site today would find it hard to recognise from a similar site only a decade or two ago, and this applies throughout all hazardous occupations.
    Yet at the same time the standing of health and safety in the eyes of the public has never been lower.Almost every day the papers compete to write about absurdity after absurdity, all in the name of ‘elf and safety’ as it has become widely known.

  5. @ Mr UK-

    I was going to say actually: I did my First Aid refresher a couple of weeks ago and three of the other people on the course were construction workers. The instructor asked them whether they'd had to do any treatments in the three years since their previous courses, and none of them had. Apparently that would have been very unusual twenty years ago.

  6. I think many of the tabloids are running a phoney wa on health and safety using trivial examples to discredit health and safety in general so that it is easier for the government to cutback many health and saferty regulations. But any changes the government do make will largely be to help businesses that have bank-rolled the Tories for the last few years. So private landlords will be allowed to cut corners to increase profits, long distance lorry drivers will be allowed to drive for long to cut cost to haulage firms and factories and shops will allowed to duck out of taking responsibility for the safety of their workers.

  7. ...And if the tabloids can make an "elf 'n' safety" link with Europe, all the better as far as they are concerned.

  8. @Chris Brown - There were loads of accidents 20 years ago, but there has only been a 27% drop in non-fatal accidents to date. I don't think that would be enough to make it unusual for a worker not to witness an accident in 3 years.



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