Crazy Christmas Health & Safety


Having just regaled our readers with a light-hearted spoof of health and safety as applied to the Christmas carols and traditions, we now return to Christmas Present, in reality – although in the cases that follow, you can be forgiven for thinking that we have drifted back into the realms of fantasy…

The fact is that all of these examples of ‘elf n’ safety gone mad’ have been reported in the press, and in some cases the HSE has responded with its usual ‘myth busters’ response that the legislation does not prevent the activities in question. The question must be, then, why do so many people in positions of authority think that it is necessary to forbid or inhibit activities that are innocuous and in some cases have previously gone on without a hitch? Have they failed to grasp the Government’s clear message that there must be a ‘bonfire of red tape’ when it comes to safety legislation and a change of attitude?

Barnsley: the council banned a taxi driver from wearing a Santa beard as part of his costume (designed to raise money for a hospice where his mother died) – because he would not then match his photo ID card. So he grew his own (non-white) beard. Despite this ‘work around’, is this really the spirit we are looking for? And who took time out to make this officious demand?

Cinderford: the traditional Christmas lights were abandoned when Gloucestershire County Council insisted on a “vital” and expensive stress test on every lamppost to see if they could bear the weight. They had done in every previous year…

Poole: for 40 years, Santa has arrived by speedboat at the quay and paraded down the High Street. Not this year: authorities scrapped it due to “crowd safety” fears. 2,500 locals signed a petition in vain to try to reinstate the attraction.

Bath: the switching on of the lights ceremony has been abandoned: the Council warned the organiser that he might be sued by anyone who was injured and he had to have public liability insurance, which he cannot afford.

HSE Chair Judith Hackitt was as usual quick to condemn the invoking of non-existent legislation to blame health and safety for such mean-spirited acts.

But is that the point? As we in our role as safety consultants discover every day, there are ‘jobsworths’ around every corner, and they have to be re-educated to take a ‘can do’ rather than a universally ‘can’t do’ attitude to their areas of responsibility.

In our chosen specialist area, construction safety, we at McCormack Benson Health & Safety face another year of change with new legislation over Construction Design Management, and ongoing uncertainties about the application of Fees For Intervention, among a host of other issues. We will no doubt have plenty to do in 2015 as we continue to assist contractors both on-site and in their dealings with HSE and other authorities. To quote the ancient Chinese curse, ‘May you live in interesting times’…