Sunday, August 13, 2006

Is the Health and Safety culture "Malevolent" ?

This morning on a TV newspaper review Kate Adie, who knows something about working in dangerous places, referred to a press story that Health and Safety rules were interfering in the humanitarian effort in Lebanon. She suggested that when it starts interfering in the ability to help people in need the "Health and Safety Culture" can become "Malevolent".

As Kate Adie admitted, that was a strong word to use. There have been a lot of newspaper stories about or extreme applications Health and Safety legislation, but we have to balance this against the fact that where the laws work as they are supposed to and save lives in the process this is much less likely to be newsworthy. Nonetheless there are quite clearly some instances where the rules have been inappropriately applied.

An extreme example was the legal action brought by the Health and Safety executive against the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, after two officers pursued a fleeing criminal onto a roof and one of them was injured. There are some jobs, particularly the police, fire service, and armed forces, where some degree of danger is an inevitable consequence of doing the job properly to protect the public. It is right and proper that people in authority should try to minimise avoidable risks, but the Health and Safety Executive should think very carefully before assuming that it knows more than experts in these fields what degree of risk comes with the territory.

It is perhaps time that the terms of reference of the Health and Safety Executive, and the wording of Health and Safety legislation, should be reviewed to ensure that a sense of proportion is applied, particularly where risks that someone has to take to protect the public or a vulnerable group is concerned.

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