Danger! Safety at Work

In 1957, during the Mille Miglia, two drivers and eleven spectators were killed and ended forever that truly magnificent spectacle of man and machine. By my calculations, the ban of this great race has cost the lives of many people, and my conclusion is based on the fact that, on average, two more people were killed on the same stretch of road every day of the year than lost their lives on that fateful day. Anyone therefore who was truly concerned with the saving of lives should have been moving heaven and earth to have had the Mille Miglia run every day of the year. I know this is an argument which doesn’t hold water, as a parallel road would have to have been built to accommodate the traffic for those going about their daily business: so let us imagine that if the race had been run on say, four days a year, then the people living along its route would have had three more opportunities to enjoy the spectacle and eight lives a year would have been saved. To date that would have accounted for thirty-eight lives. (I have excluded the lives of drivers likely to have been killed, as I feel sure they would rather have died in a glorious race than exist in their senile dotage in twenty-first century Britain scoffing at their grandchildren for wearing goggles while playing conkers, or slowly dying while connected to countless tubes in a hospital – but that is only my assumption).
The greater part of my life has been spent managing projects on construction sites and oil fields from the Canadian north to the deserts and islands of Arabia. During that time I had two injuries which required medical treatment, and on both occasions they were caused by what I suppose had to be referred to as safety equipment. The most serious accident was when I was nearly blinded by a piece of steel inside a massive floating-roof crude oil storage tank because my upward peripheral vision was rendered useless by the rim of the hardhat I was forced to wear (against my better judgement). I am delighted to inform my readers however that when I threw the offending hardhat at the resident ‘safety officer’ while on my way to the medic he required more stitches than I, and he thereafter ‘considered’ that a hardhat was not much use if 400 tons of steel collapsed on one’s head and that it was generally a better idea to be able to see! To this day I can do nothing but laugh when I see hardhats on the heads of motorway maintenance workers, or worse still, on the heads of workers or visitors inside a factory which has a perfectly serviceable ceiling and roof. To me, it says of such people: “I cannot think for myself. I need Nanny State to guide and watch over me because Big Brother knows best”.
But alas, the choice of whether or not to wear safety gear is no longer an option – enforced as it is by insurance companies, the HSE and the legal profession; and in all three cases has little to do with safety at work. In the case of insurance companies it is to do with being able to impose increasingly higher premiums combined with very nearly countless means of avoiding payment. In the case of the Health & Safety Executive it is to do with various things. Primarily, and the true function for which it was brought into being, is to be part of the State’s machinery designed to control every aspect of our daily lives, and, as a useful adjunct, to provide another army of payroll voters. As far as the legal profession is concerned, it is no more nor less than yet another rich seam of litigation to be exploited remorselessly.
Near Tebay in Cumberland, on the xx of xx last year, Mr xx xx was effectively killed by the Health and Safety Executive. He was working on a railway track and didn’t hear the runaway flatbed carriage bearing down on him, which resulted in his death. Ear defenders can be useful items of protective equipment – but when one is in the middle of the countryside with an ear-damaging noise occurring for a moment or two once every few hours? I think not. In the real world, where some of us still live, we would have put our fingers in our ears for the few seconds necessary and then got on with our work, leaving us aware of our surroundings for the rest of the time. Not for the HSE though. Ear defenders are mandatory for railway maintenance workers, no matter what the circumstances, and at all times. It says so in their blanket regulations. So, by forcing Mr xx to wear the fateful things, his inability to hear directly resulted in his ‘accidental’ death, or, as I believe, in his culpable homicide – by persons known.
When the HSE came into being, it had the option of acting as a guide and advisor to people exposed to risk and leaving the implementation to individuals, companies and organisations concerned, and to the common sense of individuals in any particular field. Their other option, and the one they not so much chose, as leapt at, was to produce a minefield of directives and regulations and to enlist an army of enforcers to implement them. There are countless ill-thought-out regulations, but one should suffice to show the essence of their mind-set. A regulation requires off-shore trawlers and other fishing boats to have slippery, dangerous plastic steps on their ladders as replacements for the wooden types they had always used. Did the HSE even think about this? Did they imagine for one minute that a fisherman would not himself want the safest ladder possible, and would he not have chosen slippery plastic of his own volition as a preference, given the choice? Did they even care? Only when the HSE senior and junior officials involved in formulating and enforcing this regulation (and so many others like it) are dismissed, charged with criminal recklessness, heavily fined, and imprisoned for a few years will anything be achieved as a means of forcing them to think! Pour encourager les autres.
And who, with more than two hairs for a brain, could put in a leaflet concerning the use of ladders, direct that, “the user should face the ladder before mounting”? Verily, the words ‘plot’ and ‘lost’ spring readily to mind.
Need I go on…………….?
by the late Alastair Findlay                                                   Back to top of this article

Back to “Tales from the Past”