“Health and Safety” gone awry

Anyone who has lived in Britain for any amount of time must be used to the large number of things that get banned on the grounds of “Health and Safety”. In our office, this includes microwaves (?) which makes that ubiquitous sandwich lunch continue to be the only mode of in-house eating. Sometimes you stop and do the “What the???” when “Health and Safety” is given as the grounds for something not being allowed–not unlike being in America post-9/11 when “security” was the thing that banned activities quite apparently unrelated to actual security. This week the Brits have hit an all-time low with the “health and safety” excuse, in my book. Two of the Cambridge colleges suffered a bit of an end-of-the-term prank where Santa hats were put on the tops of buildings, see full story with an image here. Now I admit to being one of those people who thinks very clever pranks are genius, and I can boast of a grandfather who was once involved with a “put a car on a roof” prank not unlike the one described in the article but many, many years earlier. But a Santa hat is not a car, it is a piece of red fleece with a white cotton ball on top. So imagine my disdain when the official response was for fire trucks to be called out (three of them) so that 10 firefighters could spend an hour removing said fluffy hat from its elevated perch as it was deemed a risk to “health and safety” if it had fallen and hit someone on the head. Right. Bureaucracy, 1. Sanity and sense of humour, 0.

15 responses to ““Health and Safety” gone awry

  1. peacefulyorkshire

    Completely agree, Health and Safety here frequently has me in giggles too! At my workplace in Yorkshire we had to be given a HUGE manual each on how to operate the microwave and tea kettle and what to do in case it starts a fire.
    Ummm…. my colleagues have like, PhDs!! I think they would know what to do!!??

  2. Wow, you’re allowed tea kettles? They’re of course banned on health and safety grounds in my workplace (although a few people do have them hidden from the safety office…) although we do have tea available all day in the canteen and lots of those machines that dispense cold and boiling water on tap.

  3. one of the many ridiculous quirks eh? Just yesterday I gave training to a new employee on how to properly walk (don’t run!) up and down the stairs… turn stairwell light on (don’t rummage around in the dark), grasp handrail (don’t just run the palm of your hand along it) and place each foot squarely on the center of the step… no no, your heel is hanging over, try again.

    this wasted 30 minutes of my life I will never get back.

  4. The Telegraph appears to have changed its earlier report on this item. It included in its original story:

    “A spokeswoman for Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue said the firefighters were paying a *routine familiarisation visit* to the college when they were asked to remove the hat and that the episode had provided a *useful training exercise*.” [My emphasis]

    Please note that “routine familiarisation visit” and “useful training exercise”, which the Telegraph is happy to report in its story, actually contradict its headine “Three fire engines called to remove Santa hat from Cambridge college roof “.

    The report also says: “No-one at Gonville and Caius College was available for comment”, which is at variance with its later report, where it says, “But college authorities failed to see the funny side and phoned the fire brigade to remove the object from the top of the 60ft building, in case it fell on someone’s head.” This later addition seems to be based on something which appeared in the University student newspaper Varsity, whose custom it is to make fun of University and College authorities; it is not widely admired for its veracity.

    The Mirror tabloid article you refer to, NFAH, seems to be a rehash of the Telegraph and Varsity one, without any additional fact-checking. I fear that the story has snowballed, and that you have been duped.

    As for health and safety matters in general in this country, I am happy for all measures to be taken to reduce the number of avoidable accidents. I pay taxes which contribute to the National Health Service, and therefore the treatment of avoidable accidents costs me, and it costs everyone.

  5. NFAH, You’ve missed out “The data protection act” from your list of spurious excuses for not doing things.

    I suspected the HSE might debunk some of them and discovered their “myth of the month” http://www.hse.gov.uk/myth/index.htm

  6. Even if the statements in the paper are exaggerated, assuming it’s truthful that the 10 firefighters from three trucks spent an hour rescuing a Santa hat it’s absurd. I don’t care if they were already there or what the reason. What if someone needed actually fire assistance during that time period?

  7. It’s very liberating to find here that churches can run Mom’s Day Outs, using volunteers (mostly moms themselves). Volunteer groups can go and serve lunch at Homeless shelters. People can donate items to charities. Preschool kids can go on interesting trips. So many of these simple yet effective activities aren’t possible any more in the UK because of all the red tape and Health and Safety. The silly thing is that we all know it’s silly but we all abide by the rules anyway. Why do we do that?

  8. Iota, it’s particularly odd given that America is seen as being so litigious compared to the UK!!!

  9. > What if someone needed actually fire assistance during that time period?

    I don’t for one moment imagine that the Cambridge fire brigade has only three machines. Do you?

  10. No, but it still seems a HUGE waste of resources!!! (Not to mention public funds…)

  11. > No, but it still seems a HUGE waste of resources!!! (Not to mention public funds…)

    But not, surely, if it was a routine fire inspection visit (fire brigades have to do these at regular intervals; don’t they do this elsewhere in the world?) which turned into a useful excercise, as the spokesperson said. What would they have been doing otherwise: sitting around in the mess room of their fire station? Playing snooker?

  12. It is often the case that fiction is far funnier than fact. It is amusing to regard the Fellows of Caius (including the 15th Lucasian Professor of Mathematics since Sir Isaac Newton) as a heap of hopeless and humourless old fuddyduddies, or that the Cambridgeshire Fire Service is so incompetent that it is amazing that great swathes of Cambridge have not burned down — fire services, after all, burn all their mistakes!

    Fiction can also be more eye-catching than fact, something which The Telegraph, The Mirror and Varsity have capitalized on (I notice that no other British newspapers have so far touched the story with a barge-pole!)

    For myself, even more amusing than the fiction itself, is the righteous indignation aimed against something that turns out to be fictitious. I do hope that some Snopes-like site will turn its gaze on this matter!

  13. I reckon they thought that Santa was lying in a drunken coma up there and were just checking!

  14. Howard. Is the Health and Safety Executive website not snopes-like enough for you?

  15. > Howard. Is the Health and Safety Executive website not snopes-like enough for you?

    I must have a look at it, Chris!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s