Health and safety challenge panel wades into seagull saga
The HSE’s new Mythbuster Challenge Panel has handed down its first decision – in response to a complaint by the Daily Mail.
The notoriously anti-health and safety newspaper contacted the HSE last week, following the widely reported story of the London Fire Brigade’s refusal to allow its fire-fighters to wade into a pond in south London to rescue a trapped seagull.
The Brigade had been called to the scene in Carshalton on 8 April by the RSPCA, which had been contacted by a member of public who noted the bird was caught in a plastic bag and struggling to free itself. In all, five appliances and crews were dispatched to the reportedly three-feet-deep pond but, on arrival, they assessed that it was not an emergency and left the scene.
The bird was eventually rescued by a volunteer from a nearby animal centre, wearing a pair of waist-high waders and armed with a net.
The story quickly hit the headlines as another example of ‘elf and safety gone mad, after the LFB was quoted as saying “protocols” prevented its fire-fighters from entering the pond and that it was not willing to put their lives at risk for the sake of a seagull.
The Daily Mail contacted the Mythbuster Challenge Panel on the day of its launch – 11 April – but complained the following day that it had not received an answer. On 13 April, HSE chair Judith Hackitt released the following statement on behalf of the panel: “We have now had chance to examine the facts in this case and it is clear that it was not about health and safety at all. The fire service itself has made clear that their decisions at Carshalton were not based on health and safety factors. We endorse this view.”
She went on to explain that, to do its job properly, the Panel needs time to establish and examine the facts. Said Ms Hackitt: “We will try our best to meet deadlines when we can but not at the expense of working on hearsay rather than facts. We said that we aim to make a response within 48 hours and it has taken us less than 24 hours to respond to this case.”
The LFB also released a statement, emphasising that it was not health and safety protocols that stopped fire-fighters from entering the water, and explaining why so many appliances were sent to the scene. It said: “Often, by the time our fire-fighters arrive at an incident, someone has waded in to try and rescue an animal only to get into danger themselves, so we send enough crews to deal with whatever we may find. The safety of the public and our fire-fighters is always our priority.”
The statement concluded: “London Fire Brigade’s fire-fighters are trained to make difficult judgement calls about when it is right to risk their lives in order to save another.”
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