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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 17-Jul-14 10:23:22

In the interest of safety...

We've all come across some of the increasingly ludicrous 'elf and safety rules that pop up now and again, but do they actually make us safer? Author, Tracey Brown argues that, for the most part, they're pretty useless.

Tracey Brown

In the interests of safety

Posted on: Thu 17-Jul-14 10:23:22


Lead photo

'elf and safety gone mad?

Are you wearing steel toe-capped footwear and non-slip gloves? And protective headwear and safety goggles? Have you checked that it is not windy? Have you erected a scaffold tower? Yes? According to the instruction manual you are now ready to assemble the one-metre-high children’s Chestnut playhouse!

These are patently absurd safety precautions, but the idea that every conceivable danger has to be predicted and stopped is no longer so absurd. It is not just instructions and warnings but rules and regulations, designed to eliminate dangers many of us have never thought of. If you have tried taking more than two small children to a public pool, or left a shampoo bottle in your hand luggage when boarding a plane, used a mobile phone during a hospital stay or sent a 14-year-old to buy a box of Christmas crackers, you’ll have discovered that, in the interests of safety and security, you can’t.

Where did these safety measures come from? And is there any evidence that they are making us safer? Those were questions Michael Hanlon and I asked as we sought the evidence on everything from quarantining pets to switching off your mobile phone at the petrol station. What we discovered was that many things we are asked to do in the interests of safety are a waste of time and money and don't make us safer. Some rules, such as the restrictions on how many children an adult can take to the pool, actually introduce new dangers (not learning to swim). And many of the rules that are cited are not rules at all. The Health and Safety Executive spends a lot of time correcting this: "no, there is no rule against wearing a woolly hat while cleaning the underground".

The Health and Safety Executive spends a lot of time correcting this: "no, there is no rule against wearing a woolly hat while cleaning the underground".

So why are safety instructions proliferating? One reason is that people in authority are nervous about being held responsible. Teachers fill out a 30-page risk assessment form to take pupils to the beach for an art project, in case they should be accused of a failing. (Compare this to the one-page form required for workers on an oil rig.) Councils believe that they have to make playgrounds risk-free zones.

It is also because we are uncomfortable about challenging anything with a safety or security label, especially measures that purport to prevent things like terrorism or child abduction. We know that confiscating a yellow plastic gun from a screaming six-year-old at airport security is pointless - and you’d be right to be sceptical about the whole idea that terrorists are apprehended at check-in rather than by intelligence services - but making a fuss might get the response "are you trying to help the terrorists?"

We might worry that we're robbing our children of their childhood with all these safety fears, but who wants to be seen as against child protection? Many people feel like this. People like Dennis who had played Father Christmas for the children’s dance club run by his daughter and attended by his granddaughter, but was then asked to bow out because of new child safety rules he felt unable to question.

But we can question. Indeed we have to. Because when safety rules are determined by back covering and worst-case scenarios, we are at far greater risk.

In the Interest of Safety: The Absurd Rules That Blight our Lives and How We Can Change Them, by Tracey Brown and Michael Hanlon, is published by Sphere and is available from Amazon.

By Tracey Brown

Twitter: @TBrownOK

Elegran Thu 17-Jul-14 10:46:14

Common sense is a useful faculty. But not everyone has it.

When I ran a playgroup with 30+ children, we met in a church hall with a bit of garden, which we used when the weather was good. Only drawback (apart from having to tie the gates closed - H&S would probably go spare at not having a quick exit available) was that a path led round behind the building, and there was decades-old broken glass embedded in the path. No problem, we blocked it off at the corner with one of those rows of heavy joined-together seats that church halls have, and no-one got past. The purpose of this was known to all.

Then came our Open Day cum Sports Day, on a gorgeous bright sunny day. The back path was blocked, and seats put near it so that parents could sit facing each other and chat. Other groups of seats all around the edges of the grass.

What happened? While I and the other two helpers were organising "races" a mother moved the blockage out to a different position and left the path unguarded. Several three-year-olds took advantage of the chance to chase round the back, and one (not her child!) fell and cut her leg.

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 17-Jul-14 13:21:44

My DH is very disparaging on the subject of "elf and safety"., I do not agree with him. All these rules, I believe, have been carefully thought out, and Should stay firmly in place. Each one there for a reason.

I do not like the examples given.

The rules about taking liquids on aeroplanes are there for very good reasons, and are hardly likely to be loosened up at the moment - heaven forbid!

And councils do a grand job making playgrounds adventurous, and safe for the (very lucky) kids.

Switching off, or at least not using, anything that could cause a spark at a petrol station seems like a very good idea to me.

Why should a single lifeguard have to be responsible for a group of children taken there by only one person? Use your commonsense on that one.

Oh, find something else to moan about. hmm

Anne58 Thu 17-Jul-14 13:50:13

I wonder how much has stemmed from the increase in the Litigation Culture that seemed to start in the US and is now spreading?

gillybob Thu 17-Jul-14 14:33:55

Exactly phoenix ! I am responsible for writing all of the method statements and risk assessments for our business and the list just gets longer and longer. Some of the "risks" we have to assess are really non risks but the blame culture means that we have to make sure everything is covered and then some. Sometimes I find that I am stating the bleedin' obvious but you can't leave anything open for some bl**dy lawyer to jump on !

Anne58 Thu 17-Jul-14 16:30:36

I think I remember reading about a case in the USA where a woman successfully sued some shop or other because she was knocked over/bumped into or some such thing by a child running loose.

(Might have been MacDonalds and she got hot coffee on her, but could be confusing it with another case re. not warning about hot coffee, notice that the lids now have a warning on them hmm )

She said that the store should have had notices advising parents to keep their children under control. The thing is, it was her child. shock confused

suebailey1 Thu 17-Jul-14 17:00:23

My husband was an H & S professional - don't groan wait a bit. He started right at the beginning of the act and went on through usual education channels to become a a fellow of several Chartered Institute and one several awards. In his time he saw the most horrific industrial accidents and deaths but thankfully over time they got less and less as much needed protection and training was put into place. BUT here is the point. His view is that the H & S Act should enable people to do things safely not disable them from carrying on life. He feels far too many people who have not been educated and trained properly have been put in charge of H & S in a variety of organisations who all think they are experts because they think up something daily to prevent someone doing something. Makes his blood boil when he hears silly things like not be able to have hanging baskets in town centres.

goldengirl Thu 17-Jul-14 17:01:24

Sadly it's the litigation culture. The HSE website has a section on myths which make interesting reading when you're not busy trying to avoid tripping over the kerb or avoiding hot water in the hot tap!

hildajenniJ Thu 17-Jul-14 17:15:42

I worked for years nursing in a dementia unit. You have no idea the number of risk assessments you have to complete. I can understand Gillybob's frustration. Every task in the nursing care of the elderly needs a risk assessment! People are people, accidents happen, thst's life. My DD has the right idea, she says she is trying to make ferral children! They have a big hilly, wooded garden at the back of the house and she encourages them to play there as often as the Scottish weather allows, she wants them to take some risks. How else are they meant to learn about the wider world.

TriciaF Thu 17-Jul-14 17:34:57

The litigation culture isn't new - it's been expanding since the 1980s when I was working as an EP.

MariClaire Thu 17-Jul-14 18:54:13

And it seems to me that the litigation culture in the US is particularly offensive. The money and precious environmental resources spent on making hot coffee "safe" for the last 20(?) years here borders on stupid. To elegran's point, we need to encourage some common sense. Any hope of that in our lifetimes?

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 17-Jul-14 18:56:21

A hanging basket fell down in our town. It looked very heavy. Luckily it was on the inside of the pavement so no one would have been underneath.

Eloethan Thu 17-Jul-14 23:46:54

I agree with jingle. Health and Safety measures have prevented many accidents. Unfortunately some accidents are difficult to foresee (there have been several cases of children getting caught up in window blind cords and in my local paper today was a report of a freak accident where a mum out cycling with her son came off her bike and somehow cut her femoral artery and bled to death). It would be almost impossible to protect against every risk but where there is a known risk or possible risk it makes sense to try to avoid it.

There is a "hidden agenda" inhighlighting the more ridiculous cases. Big business doesn't like the expense and inconvenience of having to comply with safety standards. They are referred to as "trade irritants" and from leaked information coming out of the very secretive TTIP talks, part of the agenda is to reduce regulatory standards across theboard.

ethcal Sat 19-Jul-14 13:20:01

I would say that some H&S laws are good but the majority are just ridiculous, I often ask myself how I reached the grand old age of 67, what was health and safety when we were growing up, never heard of it! People in this country are 'wrapped' up in to many of these rules and regulations, it's so refreshing to go abroad and be allowed to make our own minds up as to what is safe and what is healthy for us, we are capable of making rational decisions for the safety of ourselves and those we love.

jinglbellsfrocks Sat 19-Jul-14 13:24:00

The window cords thing is horrific. It should be more widely publicised.

jinglbellsfrocks Sat 19-Jul-14 13:25:53

Window blinds cords.

Tegan Sat 19-Jul-14 13:28:09

I had a blind fitted recently and the company that fitted it had to [by law] give me a leaflet telling me of the dangers and they now have to also fit a hook on the wall next to the blind to wind the cord around so it doesn't hang down.

nightowl Sat 19-Jul-14 13:33:23

I'm glad to hear that Tegan. I assess prospective foster carers and that is something we have to enforce rigorously. It always amazes me that there are not regulations at the fitting stage, which would make sense to me. And I agree with jingl that the risks should be more widely publicised for those people who already have window blinds.

Nonu Sat 19-Jul-14 13:36:18

We hve blinds fitted in some of rooms .

When the GC come to visit I always tie the cord up so it can"t be reached!

Off now, going shopping with a friend to get her a new outfit .

Oh I do luurve spending other peoples money!!


Aka Sat 19-Jul-14 13:58:27

We have chain tensioners as recommended by RoSPA.

annodomini Sat 19-Jul-14 14:00:05

I had new vertical blinds fitted recently and by law they now have to have the cords round a hook from which they cannot be detached. There is nothing hanging loose that could be taken off by a child. There is nothing unnecessary about this measure that will save lives.

Tegan Sat 19-Jul-14 14:04:30

It's something that a lot of people probably don't think about. When I had my first child I couldn't believe it when I went into the room one day to find they'd climbed out of the cot and onto a cupboard; would never have thought of them climbing out of the cot onto the window sill. However, I was always worried about those sort of dangers, mainly due to the fact that my neighbours daughter died whilst going down a slide in a childrens playground at a time when childrens coats had drawstring cords round the neck sad.

GrannyTwice Sat 19-Jul-14 15:29:24

Take a serious subject like health and safety, and you can always rely on some posters on GN to come up with flippant arguments - Like how did I survive to 67? Have you ANY idea how the accident rates for children have gone down over the last 60 odd years? How many more children have a father because less people are killed at work? And that's before you look at the accidents that don't result in death. Suebailey - you must be proud of the work your husband has been involved in and his contribution to the greater good of society and how sad that you have to say ' don't groan'. Just look at these statistics since the 70s for industrial accidents

AnneMaria Fri 25-Jul-14 14:04:40

Cannot agree with ethical (19 July). When you were younger H&S was around but it didn't explode around the world using social media means like it does now - but then nothing did back then. And there are a lot of lives being saved because regulations force employers to provide safe working areas and practices - unfortunately there are many still looking to flout the law because it is easier and cheaper.

LovingMan Tue 29-Jul-14 00:49:44

Your "hidden agenda" is so true, and proof positive is just one of the statistics given to us by
Between 1974 and 2013:
Fatal injuries to employees have fallen by 85% (RIDDOR).
Yes, how that sector can undercut good employers who care for their w'force?

The political & employment pedigree off one of the authors is very interesting, und vas written about by Mr G Monbiot, I will post it.