• Sara Bean
  • 16 April 2012

Gull-able to Health and Safety Myths

The launch of the HSE's new Myth Busting panel has a noble aim, of addressing the persistent and often unwarranted criticisms of the role of health and safety regulation in this country.

However, the seagull debacle, which ended up making the headlines on the same week as the panel was launched, exposes the realities of satisfying those who maintain that health and safety is the fountain of all evil in the UK.

Both the London Fire Brigade and the HSE quickly issued statements (the latter as part of the myth busting panel challenge) pointing out the circumstances behind the seagull story – but I can't help wondering, why bother?

Once the story has broken, the media will have moved on. The press has got its story and the vast majority of the British public will simply remember a farcical situation involving a team of firemen and a seagull.

I may sound cynical, but as a journalist myself, albeit one who has been writing about health and safety for years, I understand how the media works, while I also have a better working knowledge of health and safety than your average news reporter.

Over the years I've acquired enormous respect for those working in health and safety and have got into quite a few arguments with people who (literally) sneer, when they find out I write and report on health and safety and wheel out the usual ill-informed stories about "elf n safety" and how it fosters an interfering and risk adverse culture.

I'm usually obliged to point out that if it wasn’t for health and safety, people would still be dying in industrial accidents or of horrible occupational diseases caused by exposure to toxic materials.  Yes, health and safety is now too often used as a catch-all excuse, but again, I would argue that a lot of the over regulation we hear about is down to the influx of 'no win no fee' insurance claims, not the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act.

So, while the myth busting panel is a laudable idea, with the HSE currently being faced with making budget cuts, while still being responsible for ensuring millions of employees in this country go home healthy and in one piece, it seems a shame that it's got to pander to those will never fully appreciate – or understand – their efforts.