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February 9, 2010

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Fighting the media myths- Hitting the headlines

IOSH really hit the headlines in December as spokespeople provided reactions to everything from Christmas tree bans to David Cameron’s speech, as the pre-Festive silly season got into full swing.

Chief executive Rob Strange OBE, director of communications Ruth Doyle, president John Holden, president-elect Steve Granger, and past president Ray Hurst were all kept very busy putting across IOSH’s sensible, balanced view of health and safety to a number of national and local broadcast and print outlets.

Spurred by Conservative leader David Cameron’s speech, which called for a review of some aspects of health and safety legislation, Rob was called on for his reaction to the breaking story by BBC News 24 and BBC Radio Leicester. He told News 24: “We welcome the opportunity for a debate on health and safety, but we don’t think it’s the legislation that’s wrong. Its people’s misunderstanding and misapplication of the law that is the problem.”

At the same time as Rob was doing his interviews, Ruth was also giving IOSH’s reaction to The Times and London radio station, LBC. Ruth told The Times that it was widespread misapplication of the rules that were the problem and she accused David Cameron of “retelling some of the myths in order to highlight the issue”.

Ruth’s comments were subsequently picked up the following day by Guardian columnist Zoe Williams. Under the heading ‘Conkers, goggles, elf ‘n’ safety? You really could make it up’ she wrote: “What starts off as rather a mild story — David Cameron’s Speech a Little Bit Lazy Shock! — turns slightly bizarre.

“He appears to have taken a clutch of events that supposedly exemplify the wrong turns this country has taken, and not only are they not true, they’re the very examples the HSE has chosen to illustrate that some people spread stories about it that are untrue.
“Immediately, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health issued a statement in which Cameron was politely but pretty firmly accused of reheating old myths. This infamous conker event occurred five years ago, one time only, not as a result of health and safety legislation but because of an overzealous headteacher.”

John appeared on BBC Radio Five Live Drive and Newsnight. He told Drive: “There are so many of these stories and they deflect away from the real serious health and safety issues. I think this is a case of somebody looking at what health and safety requires them to do and misinterpreting it. The real issue is that 180 people were killed in the workplace last year. What we want is a risk-intelligent society.”

A few days after the initial rush, IOSH president-elect Steve Granger made his IOSH media debut with an appearance on BBC Radio Sussex and Surrey, alongside representatives of the TUC and Institute of Directors. He commented: “We’ve developed health and safety law over many years and we’re leading the field. We give flexibility to employers, our laws are not dictatorial.

“We welcome the opportunity to speak with Lord Young and I’m very keen to understand which legislation he wants to get rid of. You’ve got representatives from the employers, employees and the professionals here, and we’re all saying the same thing — it’s not the laws that are the problem, it’s the way they are being applied by some.”

Past president Ray Hurst also made an appearance on BBC Radio Cornwall to discuss some of the silly health and safety decisions made during the festive season: “What happens is a lot of people pick up on health and safety as a convenient excuse not to do something. We’re calling them pass-the-buck plonkers and it really is something we get annoyed about because we get accused of being the Christmas Grinch every time this season comes around.”

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