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Wednesday, 5 September 2012

elf and safety

When I was but a callow youth starting out on a career as a marine engineer, it was always instilled in us that Health and our safety was a personal responsibility. If you tripped over a ring bolt on the deck, it was your fault for not looking where you were going. Or if people were working aloft, just avoid the area below in case they dropped something. Believe it or not it worked. Everyone watched their personal space as a matter of course.

The huge detrimental change was when the P & O vessel, the Herald of Free Enterprise capsized outside the harbour of Zeebrugge. (Spookily enough I was in a lecture at HMS Phoenix discussing free surface effect on stability at the time when the news broke in the media).
Of course the MSM stirred it up with “Something must be done” and the government of the time rushed through ill thought-out legislation, to make health and safety a corporate responsibility. IE they wanted to hang someone out to dry.
Over the years afterwards I saw a change in the safety culture. The younger generation were slowly persuaded that they were invulnerable from harm, because the “Law said so”. People just assumed they were automatically safe.

Everyone was issued with every last item of safety equipment that could be invented. Courses that you were expected to attend proliferated at considerable cost to employers. The manufacturers of safety signs must have rubbed their hands with glee. Whereas in the past the only sign you would see was "Danger, Engineroom" this was not considered sufficient in the new artificial safety conscious age. Consequently an engine room door is covered by every sticker for every hazard imaginable. "Wear safety helmet", "inflammable  liquids", "danger of death", and many more. As well meaning as the powers that be are trying to protect their trained staff from danger, unwittingly in my view is that they have manufactured another monster. The monster of signage overload. It becomes impossible for the human brain to take in the riot of colour and wording presented.

Would not a single sign saying "Dangerous area, think about your safety", work better? Especially as I stated earlier in this post, that before the law was changed, we oldies were taught to think personal safety.

All this corporate responsibility nonsense has given us, is burgeoning industry of ambulance chasing law firms out to make a fortune from the inadequacy of the feckless idiots that don't think for themselves.

One advert for one of these scumsucking firms starts out with "I was given the wrong sort of ladder.........". If the man in question couldn't see that he would be using the wrong ladder he should have been presented with the words "You're fired. Bugger off".

Another one was "I was walking across the office when I slipped in some water....." I would have stood over and said " Next time you dozy cow, look where you're going in future" 

At the end of the day my opinion is that this change in the way we approach safety now, has had the opposite effect to what our lawmakers thought they would achieve. It has made the individual less safe.


  1. When school kids can only play conkers if fully kitted out with more PPE than a WWII bomb-disposal expert, you just know things have gone too far.

    And to protect would-be conker-playing-kids further, Norwich City Council deriously considered felling TWENTY roadside horse chestnut trees because they decided that conkers are a great risk to life and limb.

    1. Actually, the headmaster in the "conker safety kit" was trying to demonstrate the stupidity of the new "elf'n'safety" culture. Imagine his surprise when his joke was taken so seriously!

      And, yes, personal safety is a personal issue; if you are so stupid as to attempt to use "the wrong sort of ladder" (eh?) then blame your fall on someone else, then you are fully deserving of getting a Darwin Award mention.

      Radical Rodent

  2. I think you are spot on in your theory that all the H&S has paradoxically put people in more danger in certain circumstances. People are so used to everything being done for them in virtually every situation in life nowadays, that when they are responsible for themselves, when they are beyond the corporate umbrella, they are then completely unable to judge danger for themselves. The recent case of the man and children drowned in Loch Gairloch is a case in point. What sort of idiot takes small kids who can't swim out on a large loch in an unstable boat? The sort of idiot that has never had to think for himself, that's who. The laws of physics and nature do not conform to H&S rules, and you can't prosecute God, or Mother Earth, for corporate manslaughter. Sadly millions of people have zero concept of what can go wrong, and are blissfully unaware of the dangers they put themselves in, until it all goes horribly wrong, and its all too late.

  3. I'm going to have to order a new bulkhead to stick all the safety posters on. And don't get me started on the hazard risk assessment I will have to produce before we can fit it!

  4. Ancient + Tattered Airman5 September 2012 at 21:41

    Where would we be without unintended consequences? The legal profession might have to live on meagre rations.That would never do!

  5. Jim.

    If I had any say, I would disband the HSE and instigate a simple one line law.

    YOU are responsible for your own stupidity.

  6. Kev.

    Would you be RFA? If so I can commiserate with you.

  7. A large conservation charity owns a lake.
    People scuba dive in this lake.
    After years of trying to prevent them, the charity gave up, and instead just wrote down license plate numbers.

    One day, some scuba divers died.
    The instructors jumped into their land rover and sped away, leaving the distraught trainees to recover their dead friends and find help.

    Because the charity had written down the vehicle registration of the trainers, they were caught, prosecuted, and jailed.

    It was then decided, that the charity was running "a controlled dive site", and the license plate writer was personally liable for the deaths.

    Eventually, after much heartache, the case against him was dropped.

    He doesnt write the license plates down anymore.
    People still die
    No one gets prosecuted
    But all the tick boxes are ticked.

  8. At the end of the day my opinion is that this change in the way we approach safety now, has had the opposite effect to what our lawmakers thought they would achieve. It has made the individual less safe.

    Yes but that's the same with all socialist policies - they make things worse, don't they? Always have.

  9. A N Other Filthy Engineer6 September 2012 at 18:00

    Safety sign overload is proven to induce "sign blindness". Too many signs in one place mean that people can't be bothered to look at even one of them. The ship I am presently working on is guilty of this. A blanket coverage of doors with the same set of signs, whatever the compartment within contains. Why would I have to wear hard had, overalls, ear defender, safety glasses & boots in a quiet office or store room? I sometimes wear overalls and boots in the Engineers office but only because I am dressed in them already.

  10. I take the view that "crash proof" cars have lead to a distinct worsening of driving standards. It's the same as your thoughts above - instead of looking out for yourself, expect someone else to do it for you...

  11. As for "Risk Assessment", I will only take these people seriously IF they can prove that they do a full risk assessment EVERY TIME before engaging in the most dangerous thing that they (and many others) are likely to do on an average day - drive to work!

    I have a hypothesis that "risk assessment" will reduce accidents in that, after the time taken to do the "risk assessment", there is less time spent in the hazardous area. Paradoxically, risk will actually rise as, having less time to complete the job, more risks are likely to be taken in completing it in the reduced time.

    Yes, as the sheeple get trained into accepting that someone else will do the thinking for them, so the accidents will rise.

    Radical Rodent

  12. Attempts to make the workplace totally safe with management wholly responsible for implementing it just means that employees tend to become (either consciously or subconsciously) more reckless.

    An analogy would be a comment made by Jeremy Clarkson (I think): Would you drive any differently if there was a big metal spike sticking out of the steering wheel, rather than having an air bag?

    Certainly there have been improvements in the construction industry in the last 30 years where I work but it has reached and gone beyond saturation point.

  13. .... and just to add to my previous comment, if you try to speak out against the current H&S dogma you are labelled 'unsafe' or a safety heretic and are likely to be banished from the industry you are employed in.

  14. Sorry, I am a bit behind in reading your blog, but, I am currently swanning around Europe in a Campervan. Today, I was riding my bicycle in the suburbs of Vienna. I noticed that I was riding on a perfectly good cycle track, alongside an unfenced railway line, with frequent trains passing. It occurred to me that there were not dozens of dead bodies strewn along the track where unwary pedestrians (or cyclists) had wandered onto the track. It would appear it occurs to Austrians that railway lines are dangerous. I have noted the same thing in Sweden, but, not in the UK.

  15. When I was in Oz some years ago I came across some nice cases of proper H&S.

    See linked pictures.

    First shows a man working at height on a board balanced on two ladders with no barriers around him. But though the place was full of tourists no one got anywhere near close to him. Nor did he fall off.

    Second shows a person walking near some cliffs with no barriers stopping him from walking amongst some fantastic scenery. The only H&S sign was one at the start of the path some distance away which basically said "If you fall off, we're not going to go out of our way to save you, so tough".


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