Over the past few days, we've seen a flurry of news reports about "petty" health and safety rulings and the complaints that they've been eliciting. According to these articles, the Health & Safety Executive's 'myth-busting' panel has received hundreds of complaints this summer from disgruntled members of the public who have run afoul of seemingly arbitrary health and safety precautions. Here are some examples, as reported by various news sources:
- According to The Independent, a Crufts show in Keswick has banned all events involving Frisbees over fears that dogs might be injured whilst trying to catch them.
- The Guardian reports that donkey rides have been banned on a beach in an undisclosed location to prevent accidental injuries to sunbathers.
- The Metro account of this story notes that some schools in London have told their pupils to wear long-sleeved shirts instead of applying suncream.
- Finally, there's the incident that no reporter has been able to resist: a Bedford café allegedly refused to add strawberry sauce to a customer's ice cream, citing "health and safety reasons" as their excuse.
Now, we at Label Source have always harboured our reservations about stories like these. They make health and safety seem like a joke, using ludicrous examples such as those listed above to paint the whole H&S industry as nanny-state foolishness that only gets in the way of common sense. If people are constantly reading stories about how daft this country's H&S laws are, how long will it be before they start dismissing important things like mandatory signs and safety labels as yet more 'elf 'n' safety' silliness?
It would be nice to occasionally see the other side of health and safety reported in the big British newspapers. For example, a Scottish company was recently fined £100,000 after an employee was crushed to death on their premises; proper health and safety protocol might have prevented this man's death, and yet his story will not receive anywhere near as much exposure as Strawberry Sauce-gate already has.
However, we cannot simply blame the newspapers. They wouldn't report the silly H&S stories if they didn't happen, and one could argue that the so-called "jobsworths" who were responsible for incidents like the Crufts Frisbee ban are doing just as much to give health and safety a bad name.
The following statement was issued by Judith Hackitt, chair of the HSE, in response to the recent stories:
"Real health and safety is about protecting people in the workplace from life- and health-threatening risks - not about refusing to apply suntan lotion, or put sauce on an ice cream."
We agree with Ms Hackitt. It's time to stop worrying about petty matters like donkey rides, and start showing the journalists just how much difference H&S protocol can make when properly observed.