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June 23, 2011

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Deuce! Tennis chief returns HSE’s backhand

A senior figure in the Wimbledon championships has hit back at the HSE for suggesting that safety is being used as a scapegoat for stopping people enjoying the tournament.

Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC), which jointly manages the Wimbledon championships with the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), was said to be “really cross” about a letter he received on Tuesday (21 June) from HSE chief executive, Judith Hackitt.

Ms Hackitt sent the open letter in response to media reports earlier this week that tennis fans on ‘Murray Mount’ – a grassy incline overlooking number-one court – were denied the opportunity to watch the action because the giant TV screens were switched off in the rain “for health and safety reasons”. Reports said that officials at the south-west London venue feared people would slip and injure themselves on the wet grass.

Incensed at what she saw as another attempt to use health and safety as an excuse, Ms Hackitt wrote to Ritchie, and his counterpart at the LTA, Roger Draper, saying: “There is nothing in health and safety legislation which prohibits the continued broadcasting of centre-court action to the crowds on the hill during the rain. Health and safety is concerned with the proportionate management of real risks caused by work, not attempting to eliminate every minor risk from every moment of people’s lives.”

She continued: “People have been walking up and down wet grassy slopes for years without catastrophic consequences. If [you were] concerned about people slipping and suing for their injuries the message should have made clear the decision was ‘on insurance grounds’.”

But Ian Ritchie responded with his own open letter, accusing the regulatory chief of talking of things she knows nothing about. He said: “It must be entirely inappropriate for the chair of the HSE to make such public comments on specific decisions reached at an event when you have absolutely no knowledge of the circumstances, or the reason for any decision made at the championships.”

He continued: “It is further regrettable that you made no effort at all to discuss the facts with the Club prior to your letter being publicly distributed. To use your own phrase I could not let your ill-informed comments ‘pass unchallenged’.”

Ritchie said he had taken the decision to shut down transmission on Murray Mount in collaboration with the event safety officer and a senior police officer, based on the heavy rain falling on the evening of 20 June. He explained: “The decision was indeed based on the grounds of the safety of those present and was made by relevant professionals who have a substantial experience of the terrace and the event.

“As you might expect, and as befits the status of the championships, we take an extremely serious approach to the safety of our visitors and to pay due regard to the legislation and regulations under which we operate.”

SHP would like to hear what readers think – was Judith Hackitt right to challenge this decision, or is it the case that seemingly “killjoy” decisions are sometimes actually rooted in sensible health and safety?

Please leave your comments below.

Photo of Andy Murray in action at Wimbledon – © AELTC
 

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Adrianboulter
Adrianboulter
9 years ago

Both sides have a point. Many public events are stopped on grounds of health and safety when really it is a fear of being sued from a liability claim, good for Judith Hackitt to question this. However if the heavy rain on the Murray Mount on the 20th June was posing a significant risk of injury, Wimbledon officials got it right.
The whole point of risk assessment is to look at the significant risks and put in place the correct control measures.

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago

I think that the HSE may have jumped the gun on this one. Based on their risk assesment the LTA and All England tenns were probably right. Perhaps the HSE has gotten too close to the Daily Mail!

Andy
Andy
9 years ago

Judith Hackitt is right to raise concerns about this being based on insurance liability rather than safety at work, however since the people being protected were not at work but instead involved in a leisure pursuit her comments seem a little off the mark.
Public safety was the issue, and preventing slips and trips is high on the HSE’s agenda because of the level of injuries.
The lawn tennis association are best placed to make decisions about their own liability and PR.

Ann
Ann
9 years ago

I am assuming that the LTA staff carried out a risk assessment as they are required to do when conditions governing the original risk assessment changed drastically. In order to mitigate or remove the identified risk, they decided to turn the screens off, thus removing the reason for the public to be within the area of identified risk. I applaud the action that they took – and I am an avid tennis fan!

Ashleydsj
Ashleydsj
9 years ago

I think it should still be called ‘Henman Hill’. You can’t keep changing its name every time a half-decent British player comes through the ranks.

Barry
Barry
9 years ago

If the banking was treacherous and it is only those on site who would know this, then fine, but Judith Hackett is basically right, I would say it was more to do with litigation rather than H&S; as she says adults and children play on grassy banks all the time in dry and wet weather.
It would be interesting to see the risk assessment, and how they assessed the risk; or for the event safety officer to provide comment. Taking the opinion of a senior police officer shows it is more about being sued

Bob
Bob
9 years ago

What next? restricted access to people wearing appropriate footware? grass by definition is a natural fibre, any inclined surface increases grip?????????

Bloody lawyers, forget coomon sence, lets all hide indoors watching it in poorly postured sofas, oh no another potential litigation me thinks. Should we close all the parks unless dry weather permitting??

Brendan
Brendan
9 years ago

Judith gets my vote based on the article above. Ian Ritchie does claim the decision was based on safety, however he does not let us know what the actual risk was that led to the decision, (guess the hazard was the slippery surface and the risk was people slipping over) so I guess Judith is on the right track. More then once in my social life have I slipped on a slippery surface on a hill and I certainly would have been dissappointed if I had been excluded from this event due to those reasons

Chadsmascout
Chadsmascout
9 years ago

For once I tend to agree with the ‘other side’
As a youth leader I have been affected by the ‘elf n safety’ excuse several times, but I do feel in this case the LTA was right that their own safety professionals had made a decision, and should be allowed to do what they are paid to do, and the HSE shouldn’t get involved, unless they were blamed direcly. The problems is councils, etc. without proper training using the HSE as a scapegoat, without the HSE alienating those who do have the training

Charris
Charris
9 years ago

While I agree with the intentions of Judith Hackett & the HSE there should have been some formal vist to check out the situation before firing off an open letter; so this is a classic case of being reactive rather than pro-active.

Chris
Chris
9 years ago

Good for Judith…….

Colin
Colin
9 years ago

Good for Wimbledon – there guys will have much more practical experience on safety in sportsgrounds than Judith Hackett. Slipping over on a wet grassy slope maybe no big deal in the wider world, but when you factor in a largish crowd, no barriers like a football terrace etc then slips could have more serious consequences of knocking other spectators over or causing a dangerous surge. Don’t know what the crowd numbers were at the time but regard this decision to be sensible health and safety!

Colin
Colin
9 years ago

Advantage Wimbledon. The kind of unofficial terrace here with no barriers would be banned in football grounds. Yes slipping over on a grassy slope is no big deal in the wider world but factor a large dense crowd into your risk assessment then one slip could could cause a serious crush or surge. Well done Wimbledon right to lambast Hackett back and right to use Health and Safety as a real reason in this case

Coolpetrajp
Coolpetrajp
9 years ago

I agree that ‘for Health & Safety reasons’ should be challenged and responsible persons such as Ian Ritchie should consider rewording this to ‘after our risk assessment of this’. That moves to limelight from H&S legislation to the risks assessed by the persons responsible which is where it should be!!

Media need to understand it is the risk assessment that may be too cautious rather than the H&S legislation which is not so prescriptive!!

Cyre1964
Cyre1964
9 years ago

Judith Hackitt is quite right to challenge the decision made, especially in its choice of phrasing. The phrase appears all too often as an easy excuse used to try and deflect blame from the decision maker, who may well be making a rational decision.
People in positions of authority are accountable and should take ownership of their own decisions with out trying to pass the buck. Especialy when it is an easy feed for media hysteria.

Dave
Dave
9 years ago

Judith Hackitt and Ian Ritchie are both right,

Regretable to have such a public debate, It does a dis-service to both organisations they serve.

The root cause is a risk adverse insurance industry and a claims culture in the UK.

Dave
Dave
9 years ago

If the LTA at Wimbledon asserts that the closure was in fact due as a consequence of “health and safety assessment by relevant professionals with substantial experience”, then, to afford itself any credibility, the LTA would have helped its own response if in fact the alleged reasons had been adduced, failing which, the response does smack of defensive bluffing in the face of embarrassing but appropriate criticism?

David
David
9 years ago

I fully concur with Ms Hackitt’s concerns . The issue here is the interpretation of:

safe access & egress combined with an individuals responsibility to take reasonable care for their own safety (whether at work or not).

I can only surmise the thought process of the Police officer and H&S officer as being an instant ‘what if’ scenario e.g. what if someone injures themselves by slipping? Why not a sign ‘please take care’

David
David
9 years ago

I agree with Judith Hackitt. There are so many instances now with all sorts of organisations when we are not allowed to take care of ourselves. I believe Judith can make an interpretation of the circumstances without being at the location. Will Glastobury be closed because of rain? has it ever been?

David
David
9 years ago

Judith Hackitt was correct to fight back. In reality if the hill had been slippy the pull together of the Brit Spirit is that everybody would look after everybody in a joyous helpful way. Pity the LTA and police have so little knowledge and experience of being human.

Dbanham
Dbanham
9 years ago

We need to stop using negative situations to drag H&S into the lime light. There has to be a ‘real risk ‘ relating to the use of the grass bank. It will not kill anyone, yes wet weather presents hazards but persons looking to access such an incline should take their own responsibility to assess footwear, known abilities rather than use H&S to restrict the facility. H&S needs to take the lead from HR, Insurance etc and stand on its own with H&S professionals comming to the forefront.

Dominic
Dominic
6 years ago

I have to agree a hill crowded with lots of poorly shod people, in the rain and potentially under the effects of alcohol, would constitute a fairly significant risk. I don’t have the experience of any of you professionals but think that just maybe Ms Hackitt’s risk assessment prior to the writing of the letter would have been better after consultation with the people involved in order to get thorough understanding and reduce subjectivity. I’ll try and remember this as I approach my NGC

Dporter
Dporter
9 years ago

Judit Hackitt was right to point out that the term “for health and safety reasons” was being misused. I believe that those advising AELTC would not have said that the large tv screen should be switched off for health and safety reasons.
No one likes to be criticised and it seems like Ian Ritchie was being over sensitive in his reaction. Does he honestly believe that those advising him (if they did) are better equipped to interpret legislation than the real professionals? He cannot be serious!!

E
E
9 years ago

I applaud Judith Hackett for her comments as I am sure that most of us are fed up with the health and safety brigade making very silly decisions by using risk assessments in a way that was never intended by the HSE. In this case however it might have been better if she had first discussed this with the tennis officials before sending an open letter.

Elaine
Elaine
9 years ago

Ian Ritchie is quite right to be annoyed and let down. Judith Hackett’s formulaic responses and the repetitive phraseology are in danger of becoming hackneyed and meaningless knee jerk reactions to any and all ‘health and safety’ news articles. The HSE’s current position seems to have moved from one of measured comment and thoughtful response to specific ‘elf and safety’ mythologies to supine and spineless peddling of the Government’s ‘common sense’ mantra regardless of circumstances.

Filberton
Filberton
9 years ago

H&S legislation or LTA approach to safety? c/f another recent externeal event stopped on H&S grounds coz orgainser was using standard extension lead externally but plugged into a kitchen socket in the rain. H&S yes-but stupidity not legislation. Wimbledon rains. Murray Mount is popular. If the LTA had waterproof equipment and simple matting on the hill then no problems. I do this all the time. H&S yes but don’t blame regulations blame LTA event planners! Real reason they didn’t think!

G
G
9 years ago

Give that Lady a medal – I think I love her!. Its about time someone stood up for common sense. I left the Health & Safety Industry because of the petty mindedness of people using “Health & Safety” as a tool to stop what ever they can. How about re naming Murray Mount “Dangerous slippy area -Please can I see your Risk assessment and Method statement before even considering trying to enjoy yourself.

Gazz1998
Gazz1998
9 years ago

I think both parties have overlooked once again the fact that the media have blown the story out of proportion creating this disagreement between the HSE Chief Exec and senior Wimbledon officials. I’m sure there was good reason for the safety officer and a senior police officer to take action at the time, but I’m annoyed how something as simple as this turns into a childish debate of blame when yet again the cause was the media not stating the facts!

Geoff
Geoff
9 years ago

For a health & safety professional of such high status to publicly comment without being suitably informed of all the factors why a decision is made is not good for H&S. A phone call would have helped in this case. However table tennis e-mails and public announcement to the media of this type do nothing to help the safety profession at the coal face. Another joke for the comedy road show.

Geoffrey
Geoffrey
9 years ago

The comments posted so far are interesting but some are, as was Ms Hackitt, uninformed. I have worked with the All England Club for a number of years and although not part of the group which jointly decided to take action regarding the screen on that particular day, would have agreed AND not shied away from associating that action with safety. The Club has a very knowledgeable team which I am proud to be part of and we base decisions on our experience, being there and looking, not supposition!

Geoffrey
Geoffrey
9 years ago

To continue my previous post – the Club did NOT stop people walking or sitting on ‘the hill’. People were free to go there if they wished. The screen was switched off to reduce the numbers who may venture there, a well known method of risk reduction? The hill is steeper in places than appear on TV, the grass was totally sodden with evidence of surface slippage, people on the ‘hill’ have footwear ranging from trainers, through flipflops to high heels – anyone still think we were wrong?

Geoffrey
Geoffrey
9 years ago

Finally, as many people do not know me: I am a chartered fellow, have 35 years experience, was a HSE inspector and take a very practical approach to safety. Myself and the rest of the Club safety team do not make decisions lightly and, like Ms Hackitt, deplore the use of health and safety as an excuse where there is no foundation for such decisions. If she had bothered to talk to someone I doubt she would have written the letter once she had the facts on which the decision was based.

Geoffrey
Geoffrey
9 years ago

To respond to Dave Shepherds comment. This was an All England Lawn Tennis Club decision, not the LTA. The decision was based on risk including previous experience. Yes people walk on grassy slopes but I could give you a number of examples of very serious injuries received from doing just that, on wet, sloping grass. Also remember we did not close the hil just did something to reduce the number of people going on it. Oh and the correct name is Aorangi Terrace, nothing to do Henman or Murray

Geoffrey
Geoffrey
9 years ago

To respond to Les Nettleton: We have used signs in the past to warn people but tell me this – we have spectators from all over the world and many may not be English readers, and safety signs are not standard despite what some people may think, what do we put on the sign? Yes everyone has personal responsibility BUT have a look at the Occupiers Liability Acts for example. We built an artificial hill, we put it there for people to go onto. If we think it a hazard at some times should we not act?

Geoffrey
Geoffrey
9 years ago

Hello Nick, I think the information passing could have been better handled but I believe the vsenior management group that took the decision which included the Chief Exec, Senior Police Officer, Event Safety Officer and others thought it was a simple and truthful way of doing it. They put a message on the creen to say it would not show the match. With hindsight should they have told a porky and said ‘technical difficulties’. I think the message could have been better but did its job on the day

Geoffrey
Geoffrey
9 years ago

For the latest posts: Was Ms hackitt using a high profile event to try to score major points? Yes, she could have investigated before going public. Have we had people slip on the hill when dry – yes, have we had people slip on the hill wet – yes, have we had injuries – yes, have we had serious injuries – yes. Basically, as ex-HSE inspector I find her lack of professionalism disgraceful and intended only to score points in the media. If you haven’t read all the posts I’m consultant to the Club

Geoffrey
Geoffrey
9 years ago

I would love to know which planet David R Smith hails from, it must be such a wonderous place to live. We do indeed have many visitors who would help out – after someone has slipped and possibly hurt themselves. I absolutely agree with Mick, a decision was made on the day and by professionals. How many of the people making the negative comments here actually have any experience of running public outdoor events with 40,000 plus daily attendance? I’m guessing not many

Gingervit
Gingervit
9 years ago

Had anything happened to bring the hazard to the relevent authority? had there being a near miss?
this just sounds like a*se covering!

Graham
Graham
9 years ago

The letter should have been addressed to the media source(s) who are in fact the culprits in the belittling of the health and safety management carried out by professionals on a daily basis, in an attempt to prevent real harm to workers.

Graham
Graham
9 years ago

Berated if you do and berated if you don’t. On the understanding thjat the decision was made following a review of the actual risks involved, then the decision to suspend was correct, although as noted by Ms Hackitt, the risks from slipping on does not seem catastrophic. Perhaps we should all remember that risk assessment is only one or a number of persons views at the time of the event – this meets legislation and the control measures are what they are.

Huliowod
Huliowod
9 years ago

No doubt many people feel that the cancellation of the coverage was unfair but, as an insurance broker, I see many claims against, for eaxample, golf courses when a player slips on the course in bad weather and is injured.
Such cases often go to court and, in many cases, judgement is awarded in the favour of the injured party. A broken leg can cost up to £20,ooo with almost as much again in legal costs.
Ms Hackitt is wide of the mark blaming the insurers – the issue is UK Civil Law decisions

I
I
9 years ago

Perhaps this could be a new form of HSE notice – a nasty letter from the HSE Boss, brrrr.

Ian Ritchie took advice from an ‘on the spot’ events safety manager and….wait for it – the POLICE. So perhaps Judith should calm down, take a deep breath and consider counselling the HSE inspector she no doubt had advice from…

I’ll informed public slatings such as this by someone who should know better just denegrate further the credibility of the HSE. Not good Judith.

Ian
Ian
9 years ago

Well Done Judith!! If we cancel everything because of a bit of slippy grass nothing would occur. Will the Glastonbury organisers be cancelling this years festival because the grass is wet? I think and hope not.
People must grow up and take responsibility for their own actions, If they are happy to sit on a wet slope and take care climbing up and down it then fine. If they are not, then stear clear. The wet grassy slope would have been obvious and no surprise to anyone.

Jefferyr
Jefferyr
9 years ago

I do think Judith Hackitt was right to make comment, us safety professionals have not said enough to prevent the misunderstanding of managing risk rather than eradicating it.
A grassy hill in the rain is likely to get wet and if walked on could be slippery, if the hill was so wet all would slip, then it must have been soft enough to land on. I recall grass is a suitable ‘safe surface’ from some fall heights, so surely from standing it was safe. People have their own responsibility as well.

Jonathon
Jonathon
9 years ago

I feel the same as Judith but then she is as bad as others suggesting it is the Insurer’s fault. Commentators here should get an understanding of the occupiers liability act and read up on case law as to what is reasonable control. It’s then quite easy to defend public slip and trip claims. Strange how Glastonbury doesn’t come to a halt for Insurance reasons when it rains!

Jonnyb
Jonnyb
9 years ago

I think this brouhaha overlooks the actual nature of HSE’s complant, which is the implication that it banned the screening.

It didn’t, the event organisers did.

Granted as the creators of the hazard, the organisers took advice and did a risk assessment, prior to their decision to eliminate the problem. I would have done as much myself.

But to then blame it on “health & safety” rather than “inclement weather” in the current political climate was just silly!

Keith
Keith
9 years ago

Having read the article I think both parties are correct. The Wimbledon authorites should be concerned about the safety of spectators and if there is a risk to reduce it should be reduced, and Ms Hackitt is correct this is probably more insurance driven than legislative. Equally the HSE are obviously touchy about the ‘kill-joy’ factor so maybe a little more explanation(clarity) by Wimbledon as to exactly why they made the decision would be useful

Kennycarr2
Kennycarr2
9 years ago

The whole Health and Safety thing is getting out of control. Its taking the common sense right out of everyones hands and unfortunately everyone is scared to step over the line.

My company has bits of paperwork for just about everything that move, all in the name of H&S (allegedly)

Kenpatrick
Kenpatrick
9 years ago

I agree with Ian Ritchie but of course he does does not know of the HSE campaign to attack every story that accuses health and safety as being the reason for things being stopped. I was at Wimbledon on the day and agree that on safety gorunds their decision was correct. The “mistake” they made was to say that they did it for “health and safety” reasons.

Kevin
Kevin
9 years ago

I believe we should all challange such statements, ‘ as on the grounds of health and safety we have’ ….I often say exactly the same thing the reason is people fear being sued!