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Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Health and Safety - An Excuse for Bad Service?

Surely not. But that seems to be the main thrust of a recent report on the many complaints about 'Health and Safety' decisions, or perhaps excuses, offered as reasons for not providing something or refusing to allow something. I must say that some of the things mentioned I have heard or encountered along the way myself, so it is refreshing to have the Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission condemn it. Some of the things cited are just plain nonsense whichever way you look at them. Like the restaurant that removed toothpicks from their tables because they were a 'safety' risk according to whoever did the assessment.

As the report identifies, some of the decisions have been driven by a fear of being sued, others have arisen as a cover for not providing a decent service and even as a means of avoiding doing something 'extra.' Into that category falls the hotel that told guests they could have a baby crib in the room, but that the Chamber Maid was not allowed to 'make it up' for them as it was a 'Health and Safety' hazard for her. I confess I did a double take when I read that. What exactly was the risk supposed to be? Health? Baby's are notoriously toxic according to the movie Monsters Inc., but I shouldn't have thought they were THAT toxic. Or perhaps it was the fact she might get a finger caught in the drop side locks? If so, was it safe to supply it to the guests for use by their baby? Frankly, as the report identified, it had nothing to do with either, it was all about covering the provision of poor and substandard services.

In my own experience, health and safety 'concerns' have been used to stop training, to stop certain activities and to cover a failure to take action in some instances. I would not dispute the fact that there were many activities in my chosen profession which were not safe, and certainly fall into a high risk category, but I would also argue that I was trained to deal with that, and I had taken on the career knowing I might be required to deal with them. Those who now look at certain fire service activities and wave the Health and Safety flags proclaiming whatever to be 'too dangerous' and demanding it be stopped do themselves and the service no credit at all. There certainly are 'safer' ways to achieve many outcomes, but standing back and saying 'too dangerous; too difficult; too risky" isn't an option. As they say; if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen and stay out.

One of the biggest problems now is the insistence on "written" risk assessments. Once something is written down, it has a tendency top become a stone tablet, never to be revised or revisited. What many forget is that even small changes to the daily routine, or an operation, even a change of equipment can completely change the risk or the hazard that gives rise to it. Rearranging the furniture in a room can reduce the risk, but I have come across situations where the focus has been on things that were completely inconsequential and major hazards have gone unnoticed. The reason for this is that many people simply do not have the knowledge to correctly identify the real problems they should address, so to look as if they are doing 'something' they focus on small things they think will show their dedication. Like the teachers banning games of 'conkers' and insisting on children wearing goggles or helmets when they do allow it.

The second, and possibly largest part of the problem is the lawyers now actively chasing business. "Have you had an accident? Let us sue the ..." ads are all to common. Thankfully my spam filter catches most of them. Sadly, until someone addresses that, all appeals to reason are likely to fail, and 'elf an' saf'ey will continue to get the blame.

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