Sunday 10 January 2010

The meaning of health and safety

I looked at the front pages of all the Sunday papers this morning in the newsagent, as I tend to, and it struck me how many of the stories were about health and safety regulations.

There was the story about parents having to accompany their teenage children to the loo in Glasgow cafes (unlikely, that one). There was the lead story in the Sunday Telegraph warning us that clearing the ice outside your house can open you up to legal action. Not to mention all the stuff about gritting being banned for similar health and safety considerations.

Before I dismissed the whole lot as the kind of nonsense you get in Sunday papers, I wondered whether – actually – this might not be the key issue after all.

I don’t mean to suggest that we need no safety regulations. But there is something about the health and safety regime which has been constructed by New Labour, on the foundations of the regime built by the Major government – a mixture of American contract culture and Taylorist checklists – which is actually corroding some of the social networks which actually keep us safe.

The ruling about not clearing ice is a good example, set out by the professional body of health and safety officials. The actual effect of this kind of regulation is to make us less safe. The actual effect of much of the safe-guarding regime is to corrode the informal ways that neighbourhoods actually watch over children. It corrodes the way that frontline staff take responsibility and initiative, by chopping their jobs into tiny slithers, and subsuming them into intractable and controlling software.

So this isn’t just a story of how successive governments corrode social capital. It is the core story of why Blair and Brown invested such huge sums in public services, and yet rendered them so intractable, so elephantine, so narrowly focussed on symptoms rather than causes, and – over the long-term, therefore – so hugely ineffective and wasteful. That is the issue, really. No other issue is more important for the future of the nation.


Tristan said...

Some good insights.

This could serve as an excellent starting point for a liberal critique of current institutions - something which is sorely lacking in mainstream politics.

Liberal Eye said...

As you say massive sums have been invested in public services yet rather than helping it has made them hugely ineffective and wasteful.

Everyone knows this to be true from their own experience, backed up by that of their neighbours and colleagues. That indeed makes it 'The Issue' which political parties must address.

But no political party "gets it". All remain focussed on their traditional preoccupations - more hands on control of everything for Labour in the hope that they will eventually get it right, more cuts from the Tories in the hope that if their supporters pay less tax everthing will magically improve, and,'fixing our broken politics' from the Lib Dems which appears to be code for 'getting more of us elected' rather than a program for government.

No wonder the public despairs.

IOSH said...

Hi David,

The Sunday Telegraph Report about businesses gritting public spaces was inaccurate – there is no IOSH guidance telling businesses not to grit. We were contacted by the Telegraph for a comment last week and supplied one saying that we encourage businesses to be a good employer and neighbour by gritting beyond property boundaries to prevent accidents and to make sure that the task is carried out thoroughly.

This comment was ignored, and instead they took words from the “Just Ask” column of SHP magazine in February last year, contributed by legal consultancy Croner, and attributed them to IOSH, passing this off as guidance issued by IOSH to its members.

IOSH has been completely misrepresented. Full details of the story and inaccuracies of the Telegraph report are on our website

Anne Smart, IOSH media and campaigns co-ordinator

Tim (Kalyr) said...

Personal anecdote about clearing snow.

At some point over the weekend, Northern Rail had cleared the snow from the inclined path leading from the booking hall to the platforms at my local station. They had not cleared the platforms themselves.

As has happened for several days, there was a thaw during the day, followed by an overnight frost. This morning, that cleared path was absolutely treacherous, with bits of black ice you couldn't see until you slipped on it.

The uncleared platforms were still perfectly safe to walk on.

Joe Otten said...

I agree with the sentiment - although most petty anti-social H&S advice seems to stem from insurance companies and the fear of litigation - rather than government regulations.

What a sensible, minimal regulation could do is deem that you cannot be sued for reasonable good neighbour/good samaritan acts such as clearing snow.

Crestere said...

omg, you`re having problems with health in that beautiful contry? come to Romania please, here`s no problem because our health system is a catastrophy :( people die in hospitals everyday

A. Lanine Pro said...

We were contacted by the Telegraph for a comment last week and supplied one saying that we encourage businesses to be a good employer and neighbour by gritting beyond property boundaries to prevent accidents and to make sure that the task is carried out thoroughly.

C. Holesterol said...

I have the same opinion with the sentiment - even though many anti-social H&S suggestion seems to stem from insurance corporations and the fear of proceedings - rather than government regulations.