Has health and safety gone sane?

secret engineerWe all enjoy a moan about employers’ patronising efforts to to teach us how to pick up boxes, but our anonymous blogger detects a method in the madness.

It’s a funny thing, perspective.  You believe you’ve got the hang of something, formed your opinions and are happy with them; and then along comes something else to change the perspective and you start questioning what you know. Such a shift came about recently during a conversation with a few colleagues.

health & safety
credit: EVERYDAYLIFEMODERN via Flickr

We were talking about the use of ladders and how these days you have to go on a course to use one. Although not totally disparaging of the need for such a thing, there was a slight note of derision hanging in the air; especially when the practice of regularly inspecting stepladders and passing them as fit for service was brought in. We all understood the need for caution but there seemed to be a general response of “really?” The consensus was that if “nanny state” was ever writ large, then it was in this case.

The need for training with regard to lifting heavy objects met with more sympathy, especially as one member of our little group had recently been suffering quite badly with a bad back. A bad back that he felt could be traced to trying to move a particularly cumbersome crate in the factory. He was aware that he could have asked for help and that lifting equipment was available.

However, filled with hubris and possibly a reluctance to recognise that he is no longer 21, he gave it a go on his own and the next day he could barely get out of bed. If he’d been on a course he would have been equipped to make the decision and to gauge the risks before diving in. However, a day learning to lift boxes was still generally agreed upon as possibly a bit “health and safety gone mad”. Yet another way of removing any personal application of common sense along with the active neutering of personal responsibility.

Having said this, we are all experienced in the field of industry. None of us were actually anti-safety as such, and in fact some had their awareness of the importance of these matters heightened by close brushes with catastrophe on a personal level.  I myself clearly recall an incident at Whizzbang Aviation where a group of us were rounded up to help lay down a  free standing steel frame with various bits of pipe and random vacuum-related gubbins attached to it. All went well until it got to about 30 degrees from the vertical. The true weight suddenly became apparent and everyone ran away abandoning it to its fate – except for me. I was thrown flat on the floor with one of the pieces of cast pipe crashing down across my ankle. Fairly miraculously I fell on a stack of plaster board that crushed nicely, and the flanges on the ends of the pipe stood the main section off the floor just sufficiently to not cause me any damage. I could feel it pressed firmly against the bone though and the frame had to be lifted before I could get my foot out – it was that close.

The shift in how “health and safety” is to be viewed came through an example recalled by one colleague about a previous place of work. Apparently a senior member of staff had climbed onto a low, flat roof to undertake some task but hadn’t “tethered on.” The low altitude was emphasised, as were the marginal risk of falling off the expanse of roof; leading to the inescapable conclusion that the health and safety bod was a petty busybody.

The moral clearly apparent to all at the telling of this sorry tale was that the seemingly simplistic courses were undertaken just so that the company wouldn’t be sued if anything went wrong – which is when the penny dropped. They force you to be responsible by equipping you to safely carry out tasks. In short, if anything goes wrong you will legally only have yourself to blame. Rather than legislation removing the need for personal responsibility or “common sense” it forces you into using them and that, surely, is far from mad?

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