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December 20, 2007

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Safety slaters in Ray’s sights

IOSH president Ray Hurst had the media and the other nay-sayers very much in his sights as he took over the chain of office at the Annual Dinner and Awards.

Ray said that he got “very angry” at seeing newspaper descriptions like ‘health and safety Taliban’, ‘health and safety Gestapo’ and ‘health and safety Nazis’.

“These are highly offensive, untrue, and derogatory to the extreme when used to describe dedicated people whose main aim is to ensure their colleagues go home alive and safe. I am determined that we will get the message across that we are not bureaucratic busy-bodies, red-tape robots or tick-box Tony’s — we are here to help save lives and keep life worth living.”

And he blamed many of the crazy examples on non-health and safety professionals: “There are many bureaucratic bunglers looking for an easy excuse not to do something they personally can’t be bothered with, or don’t want to do. So what easy-to-hand excuse can they hang their hat on? ‘Elf and safety of course!

“There are also well-meaning amateurs who take decisions without a clue as to the consequences. In town halls and offices up and down our nation, people are making decisions in the name of health and safety that stops people’s fun, and makes life unnecessarily difficult. In many cases it’s to cover their own backsides!”

Ray pointed out the real reason we have health and safety, to prevent accidents similar to the one suffered by his father when Ray was just 11-years-old: “My father lost one leg at the thigh, and the other below the knee. I saw someone who had been an active man deteriorate into someone who became a very angry and bitter man who took his frustrations out on those closest to him.”

Conservative shadow work and pensions minister, Andrew Selous MP, urged the profession to stand up to the nay-sayers, telling of his surprise that construction deaths over a six-year period were on a par with those of the Armed Forces.

“In the six years to 2004, there were 504 construction-related deaths, and 522 in the Armed Forces over the same period. It’s pretty staggering — do people really think when they go into construction they’re going into an industry that has nearly as high a fatality as the Armed Forces? There is an unbelievably and totally unfair negative image of your profession in the UK. The prevention of work-related injuries and deaths is too important not to fight it.”

And HSE chief executive, Geoffrey Podger, added that he’d also bore the brunt of media negativity on the morning of the dinner: “I appeared on the Today Programme this morning to be told I was the leader of the ‘health and safety Taliban’.”

Mr Podger paid tribute to the new ‘IOSH Trinity’ — immediate past president Lisa Fowlie, president Ray and new president-elect Nattasha Freeman — but said that many challenges still remained for the profession: “It would be nice to stand here and say everything is fine and that we have it cracked, but that’s actually very far from the reality. Who really thinks 241 deaths and 140,000 RIDDOR reportable accidents is a record to be proud of?”

These statistics, and the negative image of the profession, are just two of the things Ray is desperate to tackle: “It is a rare privilege and honour to be able to accept and wear this chain of office. It brings with it responsibilities that I am a little nervous about accepting. However, here I am, ready, willing and able to do my best to see that our Institution and profession become not just the largest, the best known and respected in Europe, but in the wider world.”

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