Health and safety is a serious business and can have costly consequences if ignored or fudged. Every year the HSE fine businesses millions of pounds for failing to protect their staff, clients or the public at large.
Businesses and organisations have a duty of care and health and safety has such an important part to play in how that is achieved. Yet health and safety isn't always taken seriously and can even be the target of ridicule for applying rules rigidly rather than using common sense.
Rules are rules
Of course, any regulated activity will throw up anomalies. Instances when regulations are applied too rigidly or where legislation is used inappropriately or misguidedly. It is the nature of the beast.
But, stories of officious excess are pure gold for the red tops or social media sites and they milk them shamelessly.
Made in Europe
For many years an easy target was the European Union. The mammoth bureaucratic organisation was responsible for some regulatory mishaps which had the tabloids in apoplectic rage.
Disagreements about the correct shape of a banana, the use of the word champagne, and – how dare they - a sustained war against the British definitions of sausage and chocolate, led us to feel that the EU bureaucrats were seriously detached from reality.
However, Brexit may well mean there is a gap to fill once the EU is no longer influencing our rules and regulations. Step forward the health and safety industry.
There have long been regular absurd examples of health and safety rules being taken to the extreme, not to mention downright myths. After all, the phrase 'Health and safety gone mad' is now a part of the popular lexicon.
But, it seemed 2016 ended with a real flurry of, on the face of it, ridiculous examples of health and safety officers sticking too closely to the small print.
Getting into the swim of things
We have all seen news reports of intrepid swimmers diving into the cold sea on Boxing Day but this year a council tried to prevent the traditional swim on health and safety grounds. Naturally this rattled more than a few cages with seasoned swimmers berating the council of killjoys and some sensationalist reporting.
Read beyond the scathing headlines though and there were very real concerns about plunging sea temperatures and the possibility of inexperienced swimmers suffering hypothermia.
The tabloids were also in a frenzy about Christmas decorations being banned in a block of flats. Of course there was outrage but take a deeper look into the story and it isn't quite so black and white.
The ban applied only to communal areas and wasn't specifically aimed at Christmas decorations but was an attempt to keep those areas clear and reduce the risk of fire spreading through the building.
Most of the sensational reporting of health and safety can be rationalised, but of course there aren't any crowd pulling headlines in that.
Thumbs up for the lollipop lady
Another example, and it's difficult to find any valid defence for this one, was a lollipop lady being banned from high-fiving pupils as it could potentially distract her from paying attention to the traffic. She was allowed to give a thumbs up to them though. Interestingly, the article claims that the ban on high-fives was introduced after grumpy drivers complained that she was causing traffic jams.
There is a serious point to all this
So, yes, there are instances when officers operating under the auspices of health and safety can be too autocratic and seemingly devoid of common sense.
However, in the majority of cases and despite the lurid headlines, health and safety regulations were being legitimately used to reduce risk and protect workers, customers, and the public.
There are other cases too, where health and safety is used as an excuse for companies who have their own agenda for imposing restrictions on their staff or customers, as revealed by a myth busting panel at the HSE. This adds to the damage done to public perception of Health and Safety rules.
Don't believe everything you read
Businesses and organisations cannot afford to be lulled into a mentality where they are influenced by sensational headlines which devalue health and safety.
Of course, there is a cost to implementing a rigorous health and safety regime but there is a much bigger one in getting it wrong or not managing the policy effectively. Not to mention the benefits to your organisation.
In other articles we have highlighted the high cost of getting health and safety wrong in terms of financial penalties, staff absences and loss of production. But, to return to the question posed in the title of this post, 'Has health and safety gone mad?'
Furthermore, thinking it has could be a costly error. Our advice is to ignore those sensationalist headlines. Instead implement vigorous health and safety systems, such as EvoSafe, provided by 3Sixty Systems, to support and enhance your current procedures. Of course there’s also no substitute for a little common sense.
Book a demo or call us on 0333 010 7999 for advice on how we can show you that far from health and safety going mad it has an increasingly important role to play in the growth and profitability of your business.
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