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Stoopid H&S...who is to blame?

Most people would be able to tell you a story of how the 'elf and safety bods produced some useless check list, or how school activities were cancelled or modified to satisfy an absurd risk assessment. I qualified as a health and safety advisor a couple of years ago, and i finally learned where we are going wrong.

I am touching briefly on legislation to prove a point...
...this is not a guide book on how to be a H&S advisor. 

I always had an interest in health and safety, and while in the leisure industry i was usually given the H&S portfolio. Prior to doing the H&S course i spent hundreds of hours risk assessing. Although i was careful about what control measures i suggested, i wasted a lot of my time. Then i did this course through the British Safety Council, and was shocked that i was ever given responsibility for H&S as my knowledge was not sufficient. Having studied the legislation in more detail, i realised that Health and Safety need not be a burden, and should rarely lead to an activity being prohibited.

Although there are lots of pieces of H&S legislation, they are all designed around the core themes set out in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HASWA). By the end of the post, it should be clear to you that the legislation itself is very reasonable, but the weak link is unqualified individuals being put into a position of responsibility over H&S.

Looking at HASWA in a tiny bit of detail...

  • Section 2(1) - "It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable [SFAIRP], the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees."
    • Edwards v. National Coal Board, [1949] 1 All ER 743 defines SFAIRP. Basically it requires the employer to weigh up cost verses benefit. Cost doesn't necessarily mean money, it can mean time or trouble as well. So don't engage in a risk assessment on paper cuts as the level of harm is so small so as to make it insignificant, and therefore not reasonably practicable from a cost / benefit point of view.

Control Measures

Having undergone a risk assessment, the assessor must decide on control measures. H&S gets a slating in the press due to outrageous control measures; banning school trips etc. The control measures should not exceed SFAIRP. Exceeding it will cost more in time and money, and will unnecessarily cause disruption. Control measures should be facilitative, not preventative. Someone who is properly qualified will say to their bosses "what, if any, control measures do we need to put in place in order for this activity to be continued".

This leads us nicely onto the control measure hierarchy. One cannot decide on control measures without having this in front them, otherwise the assessment process will be based on illogic. Below you will see a graphical representation of the hierarchy of control measures. The aim here is to balance effectiveness of the control measure with participation. Contrary to popular belief ELIMINATION IS LAST RESORT, not first stop. I work my way from the bottom, asking myself; "Is this control measure sufficient and appropriate, and does it eliminate significant risks. 

So where does the 'blame' lie?

Having formally studied H&S i now realise that the blame does not sit with the Health and Safety Executive, or the government. The blame lies at the doorstep of the unqualified members of staff who 'don't know what they don't know' and think they are doing themselves and others a favour by banning anything with an element of risk, no matter how small.

So next time you hear "for health and safety reasons", you are hearing someone passing the buck due to ignorance or cowardice. Take responsibility for assessing your significant risks properly, and putting in place sensible and proportionate control measures. Don't be lazy...rather than banning something, find a way to help make things happen, rather than obstruct things. 

More funny H&S pics below!