We are all guilty of switching off when we hear the words ‘health and safety’. We’ve all been subjected to lectures on how to keep ourselves safe on a huge number of occasions throughout our lives – whether we’re at school, at work, or on holiday, it seems anyone who’s anyone is keen to remind us that we need to take every precaution to keep safe and avoid disastrous scenarios. As a result of this apparent indoctrination, however, when we hear the words ‘health and safety’ it’s almost as though our brains shut down instantaneously. Let’s face it, we all think we’ve heard it all before, and it gets boring.
The problem with switching off at this stage is that we miss vital information. Much of the time, it’s information that we may have not heard before. Not all rules are petty – some are critical for our wellbeing, but due to the fact that these vital snippets of advice are often buried deep beneath the monotonous drivel of all the bog-standard common sense rules, we do not pay attention when we should.
Although most companies do not believe that the majority of their workplace is stupid, and can in fact apply logic and good judgement to most situations, they do however believe that they need to cover all bases in case ‘someone’ proves them wrong. It is this ‘someone’ who sets the precedent for the rest of us. There’s always one who will refuse to use the common sense that we are apparently all born with, then have an accident and proceed to sue their employer because they didn’t, apparently, receive adequate health and safety training or were not given the right tools or equipment needed for the task at hand. We can’t really blame companies for covering their backs, and protecting themselves from the suing culture that is unfortunately so rife in our country today.
It was a few years ago that we were all bombarded with compensation adverts from companies such as Injury Lawyers for You. Their rather whiney mascot Underdog was telling us that we, Joe Public, are owed thousands of pounds for slipping on that banana skin in the lobby at work. Of course, everyone jumped on the band wagon expecting something for nothing, and employees were coming after their bosses with torches and pitchforks. The more people that sued their employers, the more our country’s businesses felt it necessary to implement signs, courses and rules to ensure they were covered from every angle.
People often have common misconceptions of health and safety. Although admittedly some of the genuine rules and advice given by advocators seem ridiculous, others are complete nonsense. One of the common health and safety ‘rules’ that have been flying around is that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have banned the use of ladders on construction sites. This not the case. There are plenty of regulations surrounding the use of ladders on a building site but most hark back to our old friend common sense. One of the only restrictions that the HSE has implemented is that the amount of time spent working on a ladder is to be no more than 30 minutes. This restriction is hardly a restriction at all, when you think about it – people are up and down ladders all day long and rarely teeter on the edge of a rung for longer than a few minutes at a time.
Am I working at a height if I am walking up and down a staircase at work?
According to the HSE website, the question above is a genuine misconception. It’s worrying that someone would ask this question at all. It seems we need to stop blaming health and safety inspectors for these ‘ridiculous’ rules, but take a long hard look at the people around us and realise it could in fact be us who are responsible for these silly rules being enforced in the first place!
Alan Johnson is a representative of Health and Safety Signs based in Bristol. His company supplies health and safety signs for the work place online.