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June 23, 2008

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HSE chair slams cotton-wool culture

HSE chair Judith Hackitt CBE criticised the cotton-wool culture preventing children from experiencing managed risk at IOSH’s Honorary Vice-Presidents’ Luncheon at the House of Lords in May.

She said health and safety professionals should “educate the broader community of stakeholders on what real health and safety is all about”, and described Channel Four’s ‘Cotton-wool kids’ about risk-averse parents and children as “one of the scariest programmes I have seen on TV for a very long time”.

She continued: “I don’t know how many of you saw the programme but let me just give you a flavour. It included: a 13-year-old boy who is driven to and from school every day by his father, and who is not allowed to play or socialise with his friends outside of school; a nine-year-old girl who was being driven around town by her mother, who pointed out all the ‘suspicious’ characters in the street (who were all actually pretty normal) as potential rapists, kidnappers, and murderers; and a three-year-old girl who escorted the reporter around her garden identifying and articulating every minute hazard there as a real danger to be avoided at all cost.

“While all of this can seem a million miles away from our world of real health and safety, and workplaces, in particular — the underlying problems are ones which do affect us and the work we are trying to do.”

Judith praised IOSH for jointly designing the Workplace Hazards Awareness Course delivered via schools and colleges, which she said is “such an important step”.

“But we still need to address the challenge of health and safety education and skills in every workplace. Health and safety must not, and cannot, be the sole domain of the health and safety manager.”

Judith and event host, Lord Brougham and Vaux, each received honorary vice-president certificates at the luncheon, presented by IOSH president Ray Hurst.

During his speech, Ray called for greater health and safety competence in business, and the need for enhanced health and safety skills: “We believe that it is through lifelong investment in our health and safety skills that we can begin to improve the current situation. By ensuring that we receive competent health and safety advice, and by investing in the next generation to help plug the health and safety skills gap, we can really enhance our ‘in work’ experience and develop the business bottom line.”

Ray said that work is progressing with the possible development of a pilot for an awareness course aimed at OSH practitioners, jointly funded by IOSH and the Department for Work and Pensions. He said that preventative action is vital and that IOSH looks forward to working with Dame Carol Black following the publication, in March 2008, of her report into the health of Britain’s working-age population.

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