Sunday, 10 July 2011

The 'obsession' with health and safety

In the Sunday Express on 3 July, Nick Ferrari focused his anger on the Health and Safety Executive:

The extraordinary assault on our crippling obsession with health and safety by the very woman who controls the cursed body in charge of it all couldn’t help but bring pots and kettles to my mind and I’m pretty certain most of yours too.

Well, not really, but go on:

Chairman of the Health and Safety Executive Judith Hackitt criticised the jobsworth culture that has robbed our young of a normal childhood, made employers’ lives a complex hell of regulation and inspection and allowed councils to field legions of tax-funded snoopers and petty enforcers.

We can only assume the poor lady had banged her head on a low-hanging flower basket or been partially blinded in a vigorous game of conkers on the day she gave this interview. For she runs the ghastly organisation that has closed playgrounds, had trees felled and even managed to stop tennis fans enjoying Andy Murray’s annual ritual not to get to the Wimbledon final – and she has done for three-and-a-half years!

Any more examples of what her 'ghastly organisation' has done, Nick?

I grew up being transported in a cot in a car, not a special seat that had to have been welded into place... If I needed pills from the doctor the bottle opened with a simple twist. You didn’t need the agility of an Olympic gymnast and strength of a weightlifter to open it. I bought packets of peanuts in the days when they didn’t need “warning: this product may contain nuts” all over them. Most puzzling of all I slept on a mattress that didn’t have the notice “do not attempt to swallow” on it.

All of which led Judith Hackitt to respond:

Nick Ferrari's column (Healthy dose of humbug, SE, 3 July link to external website) highlights part of the problem with the current debate on health and safety.

The term 'health and safety' has become used so widely and wrongly that it has come to stand for a huge range of things which have no relation to managing risks in the workplace.

HSE doesn't exist to shut playgrounds, or cut trees down. We don't have anything to do with children's car seats, or infuriating pill bottle tops. Mattresses, peanuts and conkers have nothing to do with safety at work, and are entirely outside our remit.

And regarding Murray Mount, Mr Ferrari couldn't be further from the truth - rather than pushing for it to be closed we were campaigning for a bit of common sense and making precisely the opposite point - there were no health and safety grounds on which to close it down.

Few would argue that we need to get the focus on health and safety back on managing serious risks in the workplace where it belongs. We certainly wouldn't.

Indeed, Hackitt wrote to the Lawn Tennis Association and the All England Club about the closure of Murray Mount on 21 June:

There is nothing in health and safety legislation which prohibits the continued broadcasting of centre court action to the crowds on the hill during the rain.

Health and safety is concerned with the proportionate management of real risks caused by work, not attempting to eliminate every minor risk from every moment of people's lives.

People have been walking up and down wet grassy slopes for years without catastrophic consequences. If the LTA was concerned about people slipping and suing for their injuries the message should have made clear the decision was 'on insurance grounds'.

Health and safety excuses are becoming as much a feature of the British sporting calendar as the rain. You will understand that while we can do nothing about the weather, we will not let the excuses pass unchallenged.


  1. I love the phrase "our" obsession with health and safety; countless articles from tabloid writers with every single one of them based on lies or distortions and suddenly this is my obsession.


  2. Yet again, like the 'EU forcing councils etc to fly their flag' story (I'm reading articles these from newest to oldest!), people will read, believe, and when (if) they're told otherwise, they will believe it even more strongly.


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