Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

The absurd Elves of Camden and London

ScissorsSometimes you have to put some effort into making a point, or consciously orchestrate a crusade, but it seems I wouldn’t have to do either if I wanted to actively campaign against the abuse of Health & Safety guidelines, or those who like to employ it while wearing their Jobsworth caps.

This time it’s the tale of self-employed dressmaker Lorna Watts, who was refused the loan of a pair of scissor while in the Holburn Library in central London – the reason for the refusal  being that she “might stab a member of staff”. It may be worth noting that Ms Watts is 26 years of age, so not likely to be a drunken or drug-crazed teenager in hiding.

Ms Watts, from Islington, north London, said: “I asked why I couldn’t borrow a pair of scissors and she said, ‘they are sharp, you might stab me’. I then asked to borrow a guillotine to cut up my leaflets but she refused again – because she said I could hit her over the head with it!” She continued with the observation that if that had been her wish, then there were plenty of big, heavy books lying around the library that could easily have been used to achieve the same aim.

The businesswoman then visited another three libraries in north London but her request was rejected in each of them.

A spokeswoman for the (real)  Health and Safety Executive said there was no policy in place on lending sharp implements, and that while it is true that those in the workplace would be expected to adopt a common sense approach, this could be a case of someone misinterpreting the rules.

A spokeswoman for Camden Council, which runs the library, has apologised and said it would investigate the incident. However, the reality is that having reached this stage, the council has already shown that it is incompetent, and wonder how long it will be before the library staff are safely installed behind metal bars, bulletproof glass and powered steel shields which rise from the counter, with screens and intercoms separating them from the dangers of dealing directly with the public, and the council bankrupt from paying liability insurances premiums, lest the library staff receive a paper cut from a dangerous printed book. At least an eBook doesn’t carry that hazard – just the danger of RSI.

As I have observed before, if you made up these stories, no-one would believe you.

Given the references to common  sense in this sad tale, I’m reminded of one of grandfather’s observations of dealing with customers in his shop, and which was that common sense was a worryingly uncommon thing – and he was born before 1900.

September 26, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , | Leave a comment

Elfin Safety strikes again

Banana skinI usually reserve the Elfin Safety jibe for stories that can be attributed to Jobsworth types that have found some Health & Safety Executive (HSE) recommendation or guideline that they can selectively misinterpret to suit themselves in some way, usually to the detriment of the subject, or to same themselves some work.

Part of the problem, as can be seen by reading the full text of the news item behind this post, is that much of this reaction is motivated by fear, either of being sued in the event that something happens which can be construed to have arisen from ignoring HSE guidance, or of having insurance cancelled or refused for the same reason.

This is fair enough in cases where activities are inherently dangerous or hazardous, but begins to look increasingly ridiculous in cases where activities have carried on for years with little or no problem arising, and the risk is more theoretical than actual. At least that’s what I’m assuming, and the graveyard at St Michael’s Church in Heston isn’t full of wardens who’ve given their lives over the years, in order to keep the clock running since 1793.

That’s where the Truro Dioscean Guild of Ringers has received advice from the HSE about unsupported ladders, and decided that climbing the 8 foot ladder in order to wind the clock in the church tower three times per week is too “dangerous” for the warden.

The job is now seen as so dangerous that the Diocese of Truro reports that organisations are pledging money towards the cost of an automatic rewinder at a cost of £5,500, so the warden will no longer have to risk his life three times per week.

Unfortunately, there’s no mention of how they are going to get the automatic winder installed once they’ve bought it. After all, if it’s so dangerous to climb the ladder to merely wind the clock, how are they going to justify the danger for anyone that might undertake the much more complex task of installing the winder?

It’s a wonder we’re allowed to step outside our own front doors these days, for fear of treading on a…

September 19, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , | Leave a comment

Elfin Safety beats hospital volunteers

Mad Hatter's tea partyWorking though a bit of backlog, I was sad to see that an earlier item which had noted Elfin Safety used to ban Bute hospital tea parties was soon followed up with more bad news.

I read that not only had the Jobsworth NHS manager that imposed the ban managed to scupper the tea parties, but she also led to the disbanding of the group that had organised them.

The Friends of the Annexe came together some 12 years ago, and in that time were able to raise over £30,000 to help with the Victoria Hospital Annexe on the Isle of Bute, and enhanced the lives of those who were homed in the facility, which accommodates long-stay patients.

The matter arose when an NHS hotel services manager caught the group holding a tea party for the patients, where friends and family could bring cakes and biscuits to be enjoyed by the patients, and the manager announced that the parties could no longer continue unless the Friends obtained suitable food handling training and qualifications.

For what it’s worth, this is surely nothing more than Jobsworth nonsense. If we take the story at face value, and all that was involved was tea, cakes, and biscuits, then what food handling training and qualifications would apply? I would assume that the hospital’s own nursing staff would be looking after any individual dietary requirements of the patients, which a food handling certificate has nothing to do with, so is not relevant. There would be no cooking involved, so temperature control and the potential cross-contamination of cooked and raw food is not relevant either.

I think patients, and visitors, are more likely to be at risk of something being spread from the hospital’s own tea trolley, as it wanders throughout the hospital, rather than a packet of digestive biscuits bought the same day from the nearby supermarket.

Disbanded

In two open letters published in the island’s newspaper, The Buteman, both the chairperson and the secretary of The Friends of the Annexe expressed their thanks to all those who had contributed to the success of the Friends over the years, and for what they had achieved.

Friends say farewell after tea party row

Rather than add to speculation regarding the matter, I’d like to quote from chairperson Janette Henderson’s letter:

As chairperson of the ‘Friends of the Annexe’ I feel I must put a few things straight with regard to our tea parties at the Annexe.

As a committee we were told by a staff member that we were not allowed to have these events up at the Annexe again. Seemingly, it had been discussed at a hospital meeting that the strawberry tea could take place on the date planned, but we would have to be notified that we could not run this kind of event at the hospital unless we had food handling certificates.

A staff member announced this without the permission of the hotel services manager – and in a way that was quite daunting, when we had prepared and were opening the event in 30 minutes.

We were upset, but I have since had a meeting with the administrating team at the Annexe and have had it explained that we were certainly allowed to go ahead that day – but in the future, only those with a food handling certificate would comply with the regulations of the hospital.

I can quite understand this, as we are working with patients who could succumb to a further complication in their condition.

Giving the falling numbers of Friends (three are said to have retired this year) and the requirement of the health and hygiene regulations now being imposed on them, the Friend have decided to  “quit while they are ahead” and announced their disbandment.

It is with regret that we have come to the conclusion that health and hygiene regulations now prohibit us from fundraising at the Annexe.

The committee has decided to forward any remaining funds to NHS Highland, to be used for the Victoria Annexe equipment fund, and to close their accounts.

Robert McKirdy
Secretary/treasurer, Friends of the Annexe

I’m afraid I still feel less charitable than the Friends, and have had numerous relations who have had to endure long-term stays in hospital, and anything at all that could brighten even one day was highly valued and appreciated, and looked forward to with great anticipation.

It’s difficult to put into words the light that appears in their eyes when they see someone arrive to spend some time with them and break the monotony of a long-term stay.

Granted, the Friends may have been retiring at some point soon in any case, but the fact is they are gone from the Annexe now, and it would seem that there is no-one to take their place, and that anyone that does will have to have qualifications – a barrier to volunteer work. And if we really are talking about cakes and biscuits, surely an over-reaction?

The real losers here must surely be the patients, and worst of all, those who have no family or friends that may have visited them, and for whom the Friends brought a little joy to.

// <!–Friends say farewell after tea party row–><!–A GROUP of local volunteers who have helped raise more than £30,000 for patients at the Victoria Hospital Annexe in Rothesay has decided to disband – just weeks after being told food handling regulations would stop them holding their regular fund raising tea parties.
–><!–Rothesay Bute Victoria “NHS Highland” Annexe–>

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Friends say farewell after tea party row

Volunteers disband after raising more than £30,000
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Published Date:
13 August 2009

A GROUP of local volunteers who have helped raise more than £30,000 for patients at the Victoria Hospital Annexe in Rothesay has decided to disband – just weeks after being told food handling regulations would stop them holding their regular fund raising tea parties.

The Friends of the Annexe committee decided this week to disband the organisation after spending more than 12 years raising funds to help improve the facilities and lives of the long term patients in the Townhead building.

Last month, just before

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the start of their annual strawberry tea, held at the Annexe since the group was formed in 1997, the group was told by an NHS manager that they would not be allowed to hold similar events in future unless they had the appropriate food handling certificates.

But the group’s chairperson, Janette Henderson, says other factors are behind the committee’s decision to cease the Friends’ activities.

“We have decided that we would disband the Friends of the Annexe,” Mrs Henderson wrote in a letter to this week’s issue.

“We are all getting a little older, and recently we have had three members having to retire, and we feel that maybe we should all stand aside – in other words, quit while we are ahead.”

However, the Friends’ secretary and treasurer, Robert McKirdy, in another letter to this week’s issue, says the dispute over the tea parties was behind the decision to disband.

“It is with regret that health and hygiene regulations now prohibit us from fund raising at the Annexe,” Mr McKirdy wrote.

“The committee has decided to forward any remaining funds to NHS Highland to be used for the Victoria Annexe equipment fund, and close their accounts.”

Both letters are published in full below.

The money raised has allowed the annexe to buy new equiment such as pressure mattresses or fridges and recently redecorate the entrance hall and patients’ dayroom.

Viv Smith, NHS Highland’s locality manager for Cowal and Bute, said: “The Friends have worked closely with local health care staff on Bute, and we thank them for their many kind gifts for the Annexe and their hard work and dedication to patients.”

*******************
Friends end their fund raising

As chairperson of the ‘Friends of the Annexe’ I feel I must put a few things straight with regard to our tea parties at the Annexe.

As a committee we were told by a staff member that we were not allowed to have these events up at the Annexe again. Seemingly, it had been discussed at a hospital meeting that the strawberry tea could take place on the date planned, but we would have to be notified that we could not run this kind of event at the hospital unless we had food handling certificates.

A staff member announced this without the permission of the hotel services manager – and in a way that was quite daunting, when we had prepared and were opening the event in 30 minutes.

We were upset, but I have since had a meeting with the administrating team at the Annexe and have had it explained that we were certainly allowed to go ahead that day – but in the future, only those with a food handling certificate would comply with the regulations of the hospital.

I can quite understand this, as we are working with patients who could succumb to a further complication in their condition.

September 16, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elfin Safety used to ban Bute hospital tea parties

Mad Hatter's tea partyYet another example of an over-zealous Jobsworth using Health & Safety claims to justify spoiling someone else’s fun, and reminds us of our earlier story regarding the Inverclyde Royal Hospital tea bar to be axed. Again, I think my money would be safe if I took bets that the real Health & Safety Executive would say “Nothing to do with us” if they were asked.

This time it’s an NHS hotel services manager who was visiting the Victoria Hospital Annexe on the Isle of Bute, and caught members of the Friend of the Annexe while their setting up their annual strawberry tea (which has been held there for the past 12 years) – and told them it would be the last such event at the Annexe. The visiting NHS manager told the Friend that the food they were bringing on to the premises did not meet specific food handling requirements.

In a statement to the local paper, The Buteman, Jeanette Henderson (the Friends’ chairperson) said: “I understand why it’s happened, and the lady’s concerns, but I think they could have put it a better way. I have written a letter to her saying I was disappointed they hadn’t been told me personally. I’m quite willing for them to train us in food handling as that is really the issue. It was just so badly done on Wednesday.”

The group’s secretary, Robert McKirdy, told told the paper he wanted to see the order in writing before making any decisions.

An NHS spokesman said the food handling requirements were there for the good of the patients, and that they had to be very careful about what food was brought into a hospital, adding “We strongly recognise the importance local charities play in the upkeep of these hospitals, and do not wish to cause any unnecessary distress.  We would be happy to work with the Friends and staff there to solve this issue, and help them meet the requirements we are obliged to uphold.”

I’d like to have heard that the manager involved had been sent on a course to teach her some of the skills needed in dealing tactfully with other people. I can only wonder at how fast anyone wanted to get out of any hotel she ever managed. There are ways to deal with people and sensitive issues, and she does not seem to be aware of them – either that, or the Jobsworth tag is justified.

Friends of the Annexe

According to the article, the Friends have run fund raising functions over the years to support the Annexe, and have raised in excess of £30,000 in their time, and supported the redecoration of one of the halls, and funded the purchase of four new mattresses.

The hospital homes long-stay patients, people who may once have had their own homes, and the volunteers say the tea parties brightened up their day and provided the opportunity for them to see people and have a chat.

The parties allowed friends and family to bring their own cakes and biscuits to be enjoyed, and these are hardly food items that can cause problems and need particularly specialised or careful handling, such as meat and dairy products.

When other members of the committee heard of the announcement that the tea parties were banned, they were said to be furious at the news.

July 20, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Real Health & Safety Executive distances itself from nutters

LOOK where you're going!

LOOK where you're going!

In an odd coincidence, after I posted about the Health and Safety nutter brigade yesterday, what popped up on this morning’s BBC breakfast news programme, but the REAL Health & Safety Executive (HSE), with a spokesperson stating that they are not the source of the crazy rules and regulations often created by over-zealous individuals (not connected with them) in their name.

The problem, as I have noted before, was put down to a combination of factors, not least of which were the parents who want their children swaddled in cotton-wool lest they get a scratch, and the legal option which is brought into play to sue anyone and everyone if there is any sort of incident, leading teachers and headmasters to rule out any sort of activity in their schools that might lead to an injury.

Examples quoted included the banning of running in the playground, the now well-known conker ban, and now it seems that the humble sticking plaster is outlawed because it might lead to an allergic reaction in a few children.

As the representative from the real HSE noted, the requirements they set out include the need to carry out and record a proper Risk Assessment, but it doesn’t follow that anything identified within that assessment has to be immediately banned to eliminate, and that responses to identified risks should be reasonable. As they note, risk is a normal part of life, as is learning how to deal with it, and there is a danger that children will be at greater risk thanks to the well-meaning, but misguided attempts to eliminate it.

I’m reminded by that analysis of some of the disasters which have been found to follow the prevention of small forest fires. Although these seemd to be undesirable, they actually consumed combustible material on the forest floor, and prevented its build up. Unfortunately, it seems that preventing these smaller fires allows the material to build up, and if not cleared there is a greater danger when a fire does eventually start, as the supply of fuel is so much greater, as are the consequences.

June 19, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , | Leave a comment

More Health & Safety nutters

Elephant on bikeAt least when I relate tales like this, it’s not because I’ve spent hours trawling the net, but have merely glanced over the articles that a few selected feeds have deemed interesting, and offered to me for consideration. A few minutes can dispatch 20-3o stories to history.

For those who like to crusade mad Health & Safety causes though, I’m beginning to think there’s a bunch of folk out there who have nothing better to do than sit for hours and work how they can complain about something, and claim that other people’s Health & Safety is compromised by something that those of us who live in the real world have no problem with – probably because we haven’t lost touch with reality – yet.

I seem to recall a recent Barnardo’s advert came in for their attention, because the behaviour depicted – a girl being beaten about the head repeatedly and descending into addiction – could result in brain damage. (Somehow, I think that might have been the message).

Now they’ve had a go at a Coke advert, which depicts a singer called Duffy cycling through a supermarket. Personally, I can’t stand the noise she makes (some call it singing apparently, but that’s not the issue), and you won’t find me paying for a name stuck on some overpriced sweet water, but once again, poor old Health & Safety is being trotted out by self-appointed experts, as 18 people complained the singer was not wearing reflective clothing and her bicycle had no lights in the advert.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) also said four viewers worried children could copy her behaviour.

Coca-Cola argued the ad was supposed to reflect “Duffy’s fantasy”, and shows the singer coming offstage before sipping from a can and then  cycling through dark streets and into the store, before returning to her concert in time to perform an encore. The drinks company argued that the commercial depicted the singer’s escape from the pressures of stardom and was “far removed from the real world”.

It also said they had gone through a “vigorous” production process to ensure the scenes met Highway Code criteria for riding a bicycle on public roads. The regulations recommend cyclists wear reflective clothing in the dark, and the company pointed out that the singer had worn a black and white sparkly top that stood out, while the bicycle she was riding had lights on the front and rear in each shot.

Following its investigation, the ASA did not uphold the complaints, noting the “fantasy context” and deciding that older children would understand cycling round a supermarket was not a realistic situation.

These people who have nothing better to do really don’t deserve the time of day, and are offered far too much tolerance.

I would propose that our Health & Safety would be better served if time was not wasted in the obligatory process of giving their stupid opinions credibility.

As with the insane legal claims for fat payouts which the “No Win No Fee” mentality has promoted – and led to a preliminary review stage to weed out claims such as the classic claim made for sore because a shopping centre’s floor was “too hard” – maybe someone with should be appointed to review the Health and Safety claims from time-wasters.

I expect I’ll now hear from the animal cruelty brigade because I have an elephant riding a penny farthing bicycle in this post, and the Health & Safety lot because it has no helmet, reflective jacket, armbands, or lights, and is probably overloading its bike as well, just for good measure. Maybe it should both have, and be insured as well, in case it falls off and lands on somebody, and they injure it!

Guess I spent too much time in the real world of Health & Safety, in industry, where people stood to get killed, or lose bits of their bodies if things were not done right, and not in “fantasy world”.

June 17, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , | 1 Comment

Coincidental Health and Safety

It’s an odd coincidence that the same day I happen to notice the BBC are to broadcast a programme about the less than sensible aspects of those who use the expression “for Health and Safety reasons“, two items should happen to appear which fall within that very scope.

While one is flippant, the other is a serious, real-world example of how things can get carried away.

Pictured below is a montage of four images captured of a small, open-air electrical transformer I came across today. It sits beside a pedestrian lane running between some houses, and has probably been there in some form or another since World War II, if not well before. As far as I know, there is no accident history connected with it, certainly not from anyone that lives nearby.

New local earth bonding straps

New local earth bonding straps

Top left is a new solid earth strap, painted grey, bonded to the existing bar and disappearing into the ground.

Bottom left shows a similar new earth bond rising from the ground and bolted to the fence.

Top right is a new flexible strap connecting the fence to the left-hand gate.

Bottom right is another new flexible strap connecting the right-hand gate to the fence, and partly obscured, a new earth bond rising from behind, and bolted to the fence.

All therefore relatively new, and identified by a coating of grey paint.

There’s no issue with work being done to improve safety, but the question has to be asked in this case… WHY?

Did someone carry out a Risk Assessment and determine that there was a significant risk of some conductor managing to connect the fence or gate to the live connections of the transformer – even though these are behind screwed and bolted access plates?

Did someone voice a concern that the high voltage was likely to lead to the fence or gate becoming live as result of electrical leakage, or that an electrical charge might built up and discharge through some unfortunate passer-by – in soggy Scotland?

Or even that that the transformer might couple with the steel of the fence, and the loops formed by the railings, and somehow have a hazardous voltage induces across them in some way?

Or that the transformer might flash over and around the earthed covers, across the ground, into the fence, and again aim for an unfortunate passer-by.

Then there’s the possibility of some worker arriving and opening the gates, only to find that (somehow) one is live while the other is grounded, and he/she completes the circuit between them?

The mind boggles at the possibilities, and as I said at the start, improving safety is no bad thing, but you have to ask what is being protected against, and what it the risk involved.

In this case, it may be worth considering that there is another, slightly larger substation a short distance away, also beside a pathway between houses, and also surrounded by metal fencing with gates. This has no additional earth bonding to any of the metalwork involved, although it was updated some years ago when enclosures and fire suppressant equipment was added.

Call me a cynic, but I suspect the earth bonding which the small substation received has more to do with someone installing a defence prompted by “no win, no fee” legislation, than it does to to consideration of real electrical hazard presented.

Granted, this item does not come with an overt Health and Safety statement, but the installation does carry warning and hazard signs relating to the danger of death, and I’m pretty confident that if one enquired, it would not be long before someone used a certain expression, and said that was why the work was carried out.

Health and Safety abuse

Having looked at a serious, but dubious application, I was passed a notice that really falls into the category of Health and Safety abuse, and the sort of thing that does nothing for the reputation of serious Health and Safety legislation.

I previously noted that some people just use the phrase “for Health and Safety reasons” to make themselves sound important, and that can also mean using it to give credence to notices that do not really deserve any association with the phrase.

In this case, it’s a notice banning those daft shoes with wheels in the heels, heelies or heelys or whatever spelling you like. It’s pathetic watching kids trying to use them like some sort of sub-standard roller-skate. While they work fine at one angle, they seem to be otherwise useless, and just bind, but who cares, as long as they’re kewl, they don’t have to actually work. Clearly anyone with an ounce of common sense (remember that, it used to be quite common when people thought for themselves), or any sense of responsibility wouldn’t need to be told not to go rolling around a historic wooden floor wearing wheeled shoes, and that’s the real message in this case, not “for Health and Safety reasons“. That’s just been shoehorned in by some Jobsworth that thinks it gives added emphasis and authority to the sign.

Honeywood Museum sign Carshalton © Kevan

Honeywood Museum sign Carshalton © Kevan

Again. lest anyone shoot off on a tangent, my point of wrongness here is only concerned with Health and Safety reference, not the application of the sign against the heely wearers. They made their statement about “No Heely or similar footwear” – that should have sufficed, with no need to call on reinforcements.

Maybe the Health and Safety Executive should have exercised copyright on the phrase and set a precedent years ago, or registered it as a trademark to stop it being abused like this.

April 21, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | | 3 Comments

For Health and Safety reasons

I spotted a programme coming up on BBC1 tonight, and hope it’s not going to miss the point like an earlier one (on one of the other channels) which was , I think, entitled The Fun Police. This was billed along similar lines, and did little to promote the sensible side of Health and Safety work as it featured a fairly fanatical and obsessive consultant who carried out a risk assessment of his own driveway at home, and carefully considered the reasons for moving stones off his driveway on the basis of the potential hazard they represented. He was also shown lecturing workers in a factory about safe lifting procedures, something which is clearly of great importance, but which his presentation did little to promote, and left his audience amused rather than enlightened. Frankly, he laboured his point to the extent that they mocked, rather than listened. This programme failed to help the cause of serious Health and Safety due to its nature, and from the pre-broadcast description, I worry that the BBC’s offering may offer little more…

Monday, April 20, 20:30, BBC1, Panorama:

Health and safety began with the noble aim of
protecting workers from dangerous conditions in heavy industry.
Nowadays, health and safety officials seem ready to pounce on all
aspects of our working lives, from building work to the sound levels
musicians can play at, or even the weight and size of our gravestones.
Panorama investigates why the deadly serious matter of health and
safety has become a laughing stock.

I caught an interview this morning, carried out in advance of the broadcast, and it looks as if they may be going to do better than this summary suggests. The Health and Safety Executive was represented by someone who correctly pointed out that the problem lies not with their regulations, but the attitude of those who seek to apply them, and that there is a fear of insurance claims, fostered apparently by the current government’s changes to the rules, which allow “No win, no fee” cases to be raised for the most flippant of reasons, with those involved safe from bearing the cost of making claims for things like floors that are “Too hard” (raised against a shopping centre some years ago, if I recall correctly).

This agrees with my own experiences, having come across many clients who would not allow my engineers to work on their premises until a proper “Risk Assessment” had been carried out. While this may have made sense when we were being contracted to work offshore – and recent event sshow how proper assessment and training are vital in this environment – there is not quite the same degree of risk when being employed to manage the maintenance of systems involved in manufacturing (or in Scotland, screwing together the parts which make) computers. In this case, I content that what is needed is proper assessment of sub-contractors by the principal, not the submission of Risk Assessment reports.

The problem lies not with the Health and Safety Executive, a body which rightly produce the standards and documentation which describe safe methods of work and procedures. The problem lies variously with those inexperienced and untrained individuals who are tasked with meeting the demands of the Health and Safety Executive, and create onerous rules and regulations to protect themselves and their employers from possible legislation “for Health and Safety reasons”, which are their own interpretations of the rules and seem to forget any semblance of Common Sense (remember that?) in the hope of ensuring that there is no possible risk presented to anyone, or potential for their masters to be sued if anyone suffers as much as a paper cut.

These amateurs are the problem, not the Health and Safety Executive.

This is something I am quite passionate about, have worked closely with (not for) the Executive at one point, on seriously dangerous hazards, and the diversion caused by the “for Health and Safety reasons” brigade which serves to dilute the truly important work of the Executive proper.

I’m quite sure that most people perceive no difference in the official rules, regulations, guidance, and documents produced by the Health and Safety Executive itself, and (for want of a better word) the rubbish produced by well-meaning and untrained amateurs in their postulations made “for Health and Safety reasons”.

I got out of the job because working at the sharp end is dangerous. In this case not for me, but those affected by the work I was involved in. Fortunately, the manufacturers involved in the particular industry sector didn’t suffer any failures of the systems involved, but I still have the articles and photographs reported about a year after I left, when a safety system in a related field failed to operate and a female machine operator had both hands removed – remarkably, both were saved and re-attached, but I breathed a sigh of relief that this incident had occurred both under alternative technology, and in another area to that in which I had once had a direct involvement – also that I had correctly seen the the right time to withdraw from the increasing complexity of the systems involved, which I considered likely to be less, rather than more, reliable. However, I no longer had access to the details, so don’t know if any of these contributed in this case. Even though it had a positive outcome, it’s hard to imagine the trauma at the time, and I’m glad I was well out of the business.

It also serves to illustrate what I call real Heath and Safety Executive business, rather than the silly things we see in the news such as the “Conkers and safety glasses for schoolchildren” story – which is myth that never happened (according to an HSE spokesperson) except in some deluded reporter’s mind, and got swept into the media, and blown out of all proportion.

The BBC programme will be worth watching, or catching later on the BBC iPlayer, if only to see if they make any distinction between what I refer to as genuine Health and Safety activities, and those who bring it into disrepute “for Health and Safety reasons”. If nothing else, the Executive should be doing something to draw a line and separate itself and its serious activities from those of the well-meaning, but poorly, or even untrained, amateurs given more resonsibility that they are capable of handling in an informed and responsible manner.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | | Leave a comment

It’s Health & Safety madness time again

On the fence

On the fence

After reporting that some sort of Common Sense had miraculously taken over from the insanity, it seems that those in power have taken umbrage, and are determined to see a fence installed on Rothesay’s pier “By any means necessary”.

Having failed to achieve their initial aim of a three metre steel fence topped with barbed wire, necessary to meet the increased threat of terrorism, the new plan is to install a mere two metre fence, and forget the barbed wire – and it seems it will be a nice, calming blue.

This seems to contradict the last report from a few weeks ago, where we were quoted:

“I confirm that there is now no question of our erecting a permanent structure – it simply is not going to happen.”

So said councillor Duncan MacIntyre, Argyll & Bute Council transport spokesperson, as quoted in this week’s Buteman article on the subject of the proposed 3 metre steel security fence and its topping of three strands of barbed wire.

This new structure is to be installed on Health & Safety ground, apparently because there is a risk that ropes being thrown to the shore from vessels which are berthing might hit people standing on the pier, and make sure the public can’t get access to the machinery of the passenger gangway.

Tim Saul, the chairman of Bute Marketing and Tourism Ltd, told The Buteman: “I suppose it’s a better compromise than a three metre high Colditz-style barrier, but I suspect there will still be some very vocal criticism – especially since piers have been operating quite happily for years and years and years with no need for fences any more than four feet high.”

Alan Reid, Bute’s Westminster MP and Liberal Democrat, said he still needed to be convinced that such a fence is really necessary under health and safety legislation, “Earlier in the summer the council announced their intention to build a three-metre fence, saying that it was a legal requirement. After a public outcry they changed their mind. Now, without any prior warning, they’ve started work on a two-metre fence. I have asked the council why they think this fence is necessary.”

The fence is reported to be costing some £21,000.

The new fence is already being built, whether or not this means it was just started without planning permission or whatever approvals and authorisations, if needed, I don’t know. You can read the details available at the moment in this week’s Buteman article.

At the moment though (and I will be happy to be corrected as I have no access to further information), it looks as if two of the Jobsworth’s favourite tools have been pulled out of the hat: One; start the job without asking, then you shift the focus from what you’ve done to that of the protesters – and blame them for the cost of rectification, and Two; cite Health & Safety as the justification, because then you point out that if anyone is subsequently injured as a result of the protesters’ success, you can point the blame back at them.

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October 3, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Health and Safety – 1, Sanity – nil, Syn – nil

I used to poke fun at the antics of the Jobsworth types that use “Health and Safety” as some sort of bizarre catch-all to ensure that the rest of us have no fun – my favourite example was the ending of “open cockpit” days at air museums, where the curators were bludgeoned into closing their exhibits to the public on the basis that they were a radiation hazard thanks to the radium in the luminous paint used on the instruments to provide night-time visibility for the pilots during the war.

Then I stopped laughing as these petty minded individuals discovered they had the power to do as they pleased, and moved from genuine hazards that might present a real danger, and became the guides for anyone that wanted to avoid being sued for anything from a paper cut and above.

We’ve just had the last episode of BBC 7’s current run of The Further Adventures of Doctor Syn” (which is highly recommended), and the announcer rounded the series off with the announcement that Health and Safety had put an end to the annual celebration of the character, which takes place in Dymchurch, Kent.

Apparently, it’s too dangerous to have the swashbuckling hero ride a horse through the village in 2008, and he must walk instead.

This smacks of the same insanity from one of our earlier stories that has seen the cancellation and ending of ending of a number of Remembrance Day parades because someone advised the organisers that someone may be injured, and they can no longer afford the rocketing cost of insurance, or of policing parade.

Since few might believe me, here’s the story in full:

For the past 44-years, villagers in Dymchurch, Kent, have celebrated the character of Dr Syn, a quiet village vicar by day and a smuggler hero by night, who was created by local author Russell Thorndike.

Dr Syn galloped through seven novels, donning a scarecrow disguise to avoid excisemen and soldiers as he and his desperate band of night riders bought food and drink to starving villagers.

On the second August bank holiday of every other year, a resident of Dymchurch has dressed as Dr Syn to gallop along a nearby beach and ride through the streets for a Day of Syn celebrating the hero.

However, this year, his exploits were curtailed after insurers decided it was too dangerous, leaving Dr Syn instead forced to walk.

Many insurers rejected cover outright, and the cheapest quote was £1,000.

Ian Hyson, Chairman of the Day of Syn, said: “For 44 years Dr Syn has burst into the festival on horseback. He is the main show and when he makes his entrance people are truly overwhelmed.

“But this time he just had to walk around. It just wasn’t the same.”

“He has been on horseback since 1964, but this year the insurers just did not want to know because they said riding a horse was a ‘severe’ health and safety risk. Only one insurer would listen and they quoted us £1,000.

“We simply cannot afford that, so had to do without.”

In previous years organisers relied on public liability insurance to cover the event, but then discovered the policy, which cost around £450 for the entire festival, did not cover someone on horseback.

Angela Green, a fan of the books, said: “I’ve read all his novels and when it comes down to it Dr Syn is a horseman, plain and simple.

“For him to be without a horse makes a mockery of the whole thing. He’s on the front cover of the first ever book for God’s sake.”

Russell Thorndike wrote seven Dr Syn books set around Romney Marsh, from 1915 including titles such as The Courageous Exploits of Dr Syn, Dr Syn on the High Seas and The Amazing Quest of Dr Syn. Thorndike died in 1972 at the age of 87.

Health and safety fears finally halt swashbuckling Dr Syn Telegraph.co.uk, September 4, 2008.

It’s a shame that Health and Safety, which is deadly serious, is now often reduced to a joke when applied inappropriately, or to allow someone to make themselves feel important, as they know that once they quote the phrase “For Health and Safety reasons”, few will dare to argue with them.

September 26, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Art writer insults Dysart residents

I make no secret of hiding my utter contempt for cliques, and any sort of group that seeks to establish some sort of superiority above those who do not see things the way it does.

Take, for example, the iStuffs. Members of this group see anything preceded with the letter ‘i’ as having some sort of magical excellence lacking in the same thing without the mystic prefix. They will pay many time the price for a glorified MP3 player, even though it won’t play MP3s and forces them to buy proprietary music tracks, and then there’s a certain mobile phone with the same prefix, devoid of any real innovation, surpassed by the technical abilities of the competition, locked into an expensive provider, and even with software that threatens to lock it and deny the user access if they try and circumvent restrictions placed on them.

As noted earlier, the residents of Dysart had a big white wooden box foisted upon them at a cost of some £18,000 in the name of ‘art’. Nobody asked them if they wanted it, and it was eventually ordered to be dismantled after meeting determined their protests were valid, there had been irregularities in the planning and installation, and there were unseen Health & Safety issues.

Now, a fully paid up member of the Art Clique has decided to brand the residents of Dysart as “phillistines” through the pages of an Aberdeen based magazine, Art Work.

In his magazine article, author John Di Folco wrote: “The doughty denizens of Dysart have certainly set themselves up as hot contenders for this year’s Philistines Oscar

“Fife Council bowed to the strident protests on the basis that ‘nobody was comfortable with the health and safety issues,’ which is a pity since a goodly number of public art works throughout the UK would fail to meet this requirement, but thankfully remain in situ.

“That it failed is ultimately due to a disturbing trend which accords strongly-held, forcefully expressed and often ill-informed opinions, a credence and credibility they simply do not deserve.”

There’s really only one philistine in evidence here, and he didn’t wake up to find this rubbish nailed under his front window one day. We can be pretty sure whatever view he does have will have been chosen for its artistic content, and he’d be first in the queue of complainants at the council’s door if his outlook was defaced in this way.

May 23, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

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