Portfolio project

‘Has Health and Safety Really Gone Mad?’ for Veritas Safety Consulting

It’s health and safety gone mad. Whether you are a veteran contractor or new to the job, you’ve heard it, and possibly even said it yourself.

Since the widespread introduction of health and safety regulations in the UK, this particular phrase has become a popular rallying cry for those who are told they can’t do something. Back in the day – before health and safety was a thing – people used common sense, and nobody got hurt. Right?

Does health and safety actually work?

Only, in reality, a lot of people did get hurt. In fact, that’s the reason the Health and Safety at Work Act (HASAWA) was introduced in 1974. Since then, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE, injury at work rates have dropped dramatically and remained stable in recent years.

Common sense is a nice idea in theory, but not always in practice. And when it comes down to it, HSE legislation, for the most part, is common sense. Though the way it suggests doing things may not be the most straightforward, it will often be the safest. It’s important to not get those two things mixed up.

OK, you might say, health and safety has done some good. But it’s so strict! You can’t do anything these days. You can’t even drive into each other in bumper cars any more.

Well, funny you should say that. Let’s talk about bumper cars.

Are bumper cars dangerous?

In 2011, visitors to Butlins holiday parks in Bognor Regis, Skegness, and Minehead were stunned to find out they couldn’t even take part in the great British pastime of driving into each other with dodgems, even though it was Billy Butlin himself who introduced the concept to the UK in the 1920s.

When this questionable rule was first discovered, the press had a field day, and of course, it was all the fault of ‘health and safety gone mad’. Even Butlins themselves blamed ‘health and safety’ rules, with park director Jeremy Pardey saying: ‘The point of our dodgems is to dodge people, not to run into people.’

Unsurprisingly, however, there’s nothing in Health and Safety regulations about dodgems. The ‘no bumping’ rule was implemented by Butlins themselves to avoid potential litigation in case of injury.

There have been attempts over the years by people to claim compensation for injuries such as whiplash due to riding the dodgems, but no one has ever succeeded. In fact, lawyers say it would be incredibly difficult to prove fault in a dodgem crash, and in general, the force of impact involved in ‘bumping’ is too low for a compensation claim.

The Health and Safety Executive themselves released a statement which said these rules could “undermine people’s confidence in health and safety law and the work it does to protect people at work from serious risk”.

It is this conflation of private companies implementing rules on their own properties under the guise of ‘health and safety’, and official guidance, then, which has created the idea of health and safety gone mad – not health and safety itself.

What does health and safety actually mean?

As illustrated above with the dodgems example, there is often some confusion about what ‘health and safety’ actually means. It is often used as a catch-all term to describe a kind of rule which prevents or encourages certain behaviour in the interest of safety, such as Butlins’ bumper car rule.

On the other hand, Health and Safety is also used when discussing the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This legislation, enforced by the Health and Safety Executive, sets out clear rules which should be followed in workplaces nationwide to ensure the safety of employees.

The Health and Safety Executive has counterparts in many other countries which enforce country-specific safety legislation. Examples include the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the US, and the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (known as EU-OSHA).

Though Health and Safety regulations cover a wide range of industries, the rules and guidelines it provides for each sector are often very straightforward. Contrary to popular belief, these rules are designed to keep workers safe and set out clear guidelines for both employees and employers to follow.

For example, Health and Safety legislation requires employers to “make ‘assessments of risk’ to the health and safety of its workforce, and to act upon risks they identify, so as to reduce them”. Not being allowed to fly kites on the beach, as one strange rule implemented by East Riding of Yorkshire Council ordered, is not actual legislation.

In 2011, then Employment Minister Chris Grayling picked up managers and private businesses blaming ‘health and safety’, and said: “Health and safety laws exist to provide important safeguards against people being seriously injured or made unwell at work and should not hamper everyday activities. These regulations are intended to save lives, not stop them.

“Middle managers in councils and companies should not try to hide unpopular decisions behind health and safety legislation. People must acknowledge these myths and continue to challenge them.”

It’s vital, then, that people are made aware of what Health and Safety actually is and how it actually affects them.

Health and Safety training

At Veritas Consulting, we work with construction companies, tradesmen, contractors, and architects across the UK, and we understand that sometimes Health and Safety can be frustrating. Legislation can occasionally make a job more complex, and mean more time spent analysing and planning rather than working.

We aren’t the health and safety police. We want people to be able to get on with the job at hand, safely. With our Health and Safety training, delivered across Birmingham and the West Midlands, we aim to cut through the myths around safety legislation and teach people the things that are relevant to them.

Our range of training courses are designed for business owners, managers, employees and contractors, and ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to staying safe at work. We also offer interactive online training, making it more straightforward than ever for everyone to access these courses.

Despite the perception of Health and Safety, the legislation is designed to keep everyone safe at work, not to make your life harder. By knowing the facts and the myths, you will learn how to identify and control risks, meaning you and your employees can stay safe, without getting bogged down by ‘health and safety gone mad’.

You can view the full article on the Veritas Consulting website here.


Charlie Benton



Send an email