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December 4, 2009

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Stop taking the myth- MPs conquer the conker fears

MPs and peers came together for a charity conker shoot-out, organised by IOSH, to show that health and safety has never ‘banned’ the game.

A dozen parliamentarians put their conker skills to the test outside the Houses of Parliament, with their match fees helping to raise funds for Guide Dogs for the Blind (a charity supported by the World Conker Championships). The crack conker challenge was part of IOSH’s ‘Stop taking the myth’ campaign, which seeks to remind people that health and safety is not a killjoy conspiracy designed to end people’s fun, but a necessary safeguard against injuries and possible death.

Among the MPs who lined up to take pot-shots at each others conker were Tim Loughton MP, Edward Timpson MP, Laura Moffatt MP, Jonathan Djanogly MP and Bob Russell MP, who originally came up with the idea for the contest.

IOSH immediate past president, Nattasha Freeman, said: “Cancelling or banning things is so often driven by the fear of being sued, the cost of putting on an activity, or the misguided belief that what is required is simply too complicated.

“But there’s a real danger that this short-sighted approach to risk distracts people from the real truth around deaths and major injuries. Health and safety decisions can end up being ridiculed, which jeopardises the risk-management process that is so essential to preventing future accidents and fatalities.”

She added: “It’s time to stop health and safety being used as a convenient, catch-all excuse and appreciate that it’s there to be used to save lives, not ruin them.”

The conkers that were used were brought along by the organisers of the World Conker Championships, Ashton Conker Club, which was also on hand to ensure fair play and that the rules of conkers were followed.

And what did the MPs make of it? Laura Moffatt, Labour MP for Crawley, said: “I’ve been working with IOSH on lots of important parliamentary matters. This is such a fun way to get across a really important message. I know where we have to protect people in the workplace and in the home, and it’s not about conkers.” Jonathan Djanogly, Conservative MP for Huntingdon, said that he’d last played conkers a year ago with his son — who’d beaten him. “But today, I won. I’ve got my conker to prove it,” he said, clearly chuffed, before adding: “We need a balance. Sometimes health and safety can go over the top and has to be reined in, but the important thing is to have a balance. It’s good for kids to get out there, play outside and play in the elements, and sometimes get a bit dirty.”  

And the final word has to go to the victorious Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, who was obviously delighted to take home the trophy: “Health and safety is a very important subject, but you don’t have to be afraid of it — embrace it, enjoy it, there’s nothing health and safety does that prevents people from having a good time. Unfortunately, health and safety gets blamed for lots of things that health and safety officers have had nothing whatsoever to do with.”

He continued: “Health and safety people are not there to be killjoys, but to stop people being killed and injured. The serious message behind this bit of fun is that we have to be careful in society, in the workplace and, indeed, in the home.”

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