The Health & Safety Executive is the government department that decides what are the main aims of H&S. They decide what the rules and guidelines are. They are the ones that enforce any punishments for breaches of H&S. But are they really in charge?
Who is stopping all the traditional events or watering them down and changing them?
A lot of times you’ll hear from various news reports and commentators, especially from the likes of Richard Littlejohn of the Daily Mail, that H&S is spoiling an event or getting in the way of normal life. For instance H&S stopped the cheese rolling down Coopers Hill. H&S forced 2000 people to watch a bonfire on TV. Other commentators rail against these reports and say that its not H&S that changing these event but the organisers. In the case of the cheese rolling the event was cancelled due to the numbers of visitors not participants. In the case of the bonfire, the organisers spent £300 rather than organise barriers, extra staff and sort out paperwork.
So are these other commentators right?
They are to a certain extent. Certainly in the case of the air cadets refused permission to carry their guns during a parade as it was the Cadet organisation who had a rule against the cadets carrying weapons as they a youth movement sponsored by the MoD and not soldiers.
There is nothing in the H&S rules and guidelines that specifically exclude cheese rolling or watching a bonfire. But you have to ask why they change their event. The main reason is insurance and legislation. Insurance because the premiums are high. And why are the premiums high? Because of councils who legislate and stipulate that event organisers need things like £1m liability insurances. The councils also ask for lots of bureaucracy and red tape to be filled in which requires a lot of effort from the event organisers which costs time and money.
A more minor reason is that someone uses the H&S rules to show that they are in charge, that they have the authority and the power. For instance a teacher stopping a scout survival experience because the kids used leaves rather than plates to eat from to show that they are in charge.
But are £1m liability insurances required. For all events? You could probably agree that a dangerous event like the Coopers Hill cheese rolling would require it. But you could argue that the participants would need to sign and and acknowledge that they take all responsibility for their actions and indemnify the organisers of any liabilities. All the organisers need do is ensure that there is enough safety and medical staff to cope with any accidents. But what about a fete in the park? Someone could still break their leg by tripping over a guy rope for a tent, but in such cases this would be more due to the person not taking responsibility for their own actions as everyone knows that tents have guy ropes sticking out. How far do you go to ensure people don’t trip over the ropes? How much is their lack of care and how much the lack of care of the tent erectors?
The damage in both cases are the same but the circumstances and risk factors are totally different. I suspect that most councils don’t take these differences into account. Both will need loads of forms filling in. Big events will be able to collect enough money in fees to pay for someone to fill in the forms, usually a full time job. But small events, usually charitable, cannot afford this. Nor can the volunteers afford to spend a lot of time filling in the forms.
This is why all the traditional events are being stopped. Usually after hundreds of years and no incidents – the legislation gets in the way and forces the organisers to give up. Nearly all these traditional events are organised by volunteers who do it for the love not the money. They spend their evenings and weekends organising these events. How many of these forms are just going to be filed away unread. How many are created by council staff to justify their jobs. How many are filled and only used when an accident has occurred to show that the organisers ticked the boxes.
Will life come to an end if these forms weren’t filled in? Well we have survived nearly 2000 years with only minimal bureaucracy so I would wager that there won’t be any disasters if we stopped filling in the forms. We haven’t had disasters, but there have been lives saved by H&S and those who have been compensated for horrendous accidents. But would those live and limbs have been saved if people took normal precautions about their surroundings and used some common sense when doing things around others, rather than always assume that the state (or the insurance company) will take care of their mistake or that they won’t get punished if they followed the rules.
I am reminded of one of Anna’s classic posts from some time ago where she regaled us with a great story of the high wire act strung between buildings and over the heads of the crowd below. Now that the archives have been restored (thanks Neil) you can read it again. No health and safety, just a common sense attitude.