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Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
March 25, 2007

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Come together to bust those myths

IOSH president-elect Ray Hurst is a man on a mission — to dispel some of the myths around health and safety. And he hopes as many IOSH members as possible will get involved to help.

I currently work for a large county council, which employs 38,000 staff. Many view working for local government as “not serious safety” because it is perceived as dealing with non-complex risks. When you think of councils and safety, the things that often come to mind are the bonkers conkers examples — banning school trips or removing goalposts for fear walkers might bump into them in the dark.

Many of the decisions that have led to us getting the reputation that “we are all barking mad” come from those who are not safety professionals but managers who have become risk-averse. They believe headlines that they will be sued or prosecuted if something goes wrong.

As health and safety professionals, we have to be there to reassure them that sensible risk is acceptable. But this can be difficult. I’ve had irate parents on the phone because their child has been involved in an incident. I’ve investigated it and told them that appropriate control measures were in place and that the risk level was acceptable.

It’s then you are told by the parent: “There is no such thing as an acceptable risk when it comes to a child.” And yet many of those parents will throw their kids out of the car into a congested road when dropping them off at school, having got them there without ensuring they are properly restrained in the car!

My work involves many different areas. I advise science, design and technology, and PE teachers, and also staff maintaining grounds, felling trees, liaising with gypsies, social services, and trading standards, among others. So it’s a shame the work of so many practitioners in this area is seen in the ‘bonkers conkers’ light. I believe some managers make decisions not to allow something because they don’t like it personally. They see “elf and safety” as a convenient excuse not to have to explain their reasons. When challenged they will ring the health and safety team to get back-up for their action (or inaction) so they can say: “I have checked it with health and safety and they say no.” It surprises them when we say “yes you can, if€

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