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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