That old health and safety chestnut

This blog post was Sparked by a video from Croydon based CycleGaz and a tweet from Toby of @studio27 :

‘Just saw chap on bike decked out head to toe in hi-viz, smoking a fag #healthandsafetyconundrum

Initially, Toby and I had a light-hearted twitter chat about those much feared men in yellow high-viz jackets, hard hats and steel toecapped boots. Bar room chat – and right wing newspapers – will tell you that those darned H&S bods have driven all the fun out of everything. Conventional wisdom has it that you can’t so much as hold a pen without appropriate safety wear. That danger lurks at every desk and owning an adjustable swivel chair without the necessary training is likely to result in serious long-term injury or worse. Except in the real world – the one occupied by most businesses and populated by well-trained, practical  and sensible H&S staff – it isn’t the case. For every story about a headmaster that bans conkers, there’s countless untold stories of limbs that were not severed in industrial accidents, of people not developing cancer through unwanted passive smoking and of people who didn’t plunge to their deaths off skyscrapers. There are few things that get me in a tizz more acutely than unwarranted griping about H&S. Most rules are based on precedents*, though often the underlying reason for the rule/control is not sufficiently explained. Ask anyone that’s worked in industry for a long time and you will hear stories that make your hair stand on end. Or you’ll pass out. Or both, passing out with fully erect hair and the mental scars of a deeply unsettling story. But let’s return to the case in hand.

After thinking about that conversation, it brought back the recent and rather unpleasant memory of CycleGaz’s video on Youtube, a vid accompanied by his demand; ‘lets do something about this stretch of road’. I couldn’t agree more. This 1min 23second piece of footage will point out everything that is insane about inner city traffic arrangements and some of the idiots who use them. A cyclist is riding – perfectly well incidentally – down a stretch of London road when a white van scythes across her. How she fails to wind up under the wheels of that van remains a mystery. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the car behind simply couldn’t give a fig (or isn’t paying any attention either) and seems to be tailgating to finish the job. Shocking. This is one lucky lady. Had an incident of comparative danger – heaven forbid – happened in our factory, the building would be covered in yellow and black tape before you could cry ‘morons!’. Yet the road system appears to be beyond the type of controls that we see employed everywhere else. It’s either a blindspot in our collective responsibility or a tacit acceptance that the road system operates in a different sphere, one still populated with the Victorian mindset that high productivity will produce high levels of accidents, the mantra being – accidents involving labour (substitute labour for travellers here) are regrettable but inevitable.

Personally, I don’t think that’s acceptable. Do you? Not when there are obvious and simple solutions that will improve safety overnight (lower speed limits, extended use of cycle lanes, sensors on vans etc. etc. ad infinitum). And don’t forget this affects everyone. Whether you ride bikes, commute in a car or drive for a living, there are dangers on our road network that simply need not be there. It’s about time government stopped procrastinating, stopped moaning about H&S and got on with doing something about a problem that is within our power to reduce vastly.

*Granted, there are also lots of examples of poorly applied interpretations of H&S rules – and I wouldn’t excuse that either.

**Not really. It’s to stop you plunging to a spectacularly messy death at the bottom of a 200 year old water wheel. But my niece’s would applaud its wider use.

Incidentally – and as a bit of an aside – its proposed that the sign I used at the top of this article is used to prevent  Dads dancing badly at family discos and causing mental trauma to all concerned. Just ask my nieces**.

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