If you live in the UK today, you’ll be only too familiar with the term “Health & Safety!” So what is health and safety? These are my thoughts on the whole quagmire of keeping Britain safe.
The idea of Health & Safety is a noble one if you consider it. It is mankind’s attempt at ensuring that the greater public are truly put first before profit and advancement. However when is protecting our people from harm taken too far? In today’s minefield of Health and Safety legislation is it really mankind that we are protecting, or are we in the long run just deskilling ourselves? In today’s modern office, gone are the people that you could call on to fix anything. We need a sparky to change the light bulb, a chef to boil the kettle, a gardener to trim the grass, and a hygiene technician to clean the floors.
Yes admittedly there is nothing wrong with making sure we work smart and work safe. Stopping to ensure that appropriate training systems are in place, and we use the correct equipment which has been properly checked is a wise thing. Keeping staff on their toes in dangerous environments is sound business practice I will admit. However, yes there has to be a however when we pause to think.
Yesterday’s generation were multi skilled on a level we can only ogle at. When I was a youngster and the car broke down, my father was there to fix it. When the roof needed repair, it was dad that was up mending the leak. The fridge stopped working? Fear not, our knowledgeable father was right there to give the necessary advice to get it working again. Maybe it was the simple fact that in those days we learnt to make do with a little, and really make it stretch far beyond the date it was due to die.
As a result, growing up I got into everything. Frequently I was dragged into assisting my father be it with enthusiasm or kicking and screaming, fundamentally I learnt just like him to have an enquiring mind. Skills from all manner of trades we passed down. Building a wall, wiring in a boiler, hooking up the sewerage, painting the walls, hanging a door, whatever we were doing, I had an idea of what it was, and how it was done. Of course I didn’t know everything, and still don’t, but if I didn’t know, I was going to find out.
My first experience with Health & Safety was a written letter of warning for changing a light bulb in the office I was working. I arrived at work early one morning to find the fluorescent tube dull and flickering, which in my mind indicated it was an unsuitable environment to be working in. The flicker was distracting and an indication the tube was on its way out. The simple solution? Change the tube of course. So off to the basement I trundled, and requested for a new tube. The store keeper obliged and I ventured to my desk, climbed up and proceeded to change the tube. It was about this point that my boss came in and all hell broke out. I was given the sternest verbal dressing down about the dangers I’d placed myself and my colleagues in. There were only two people on a floor that held thirty of us. I was berated about how I could have seriously injured myself and it was not my job to change a light bulb. Stunned is an adequate definition of my response. I looked at my boss as if she were stupid. TO be fair I still think that she was, however she was following Health & Safety to the letter of the law, and so it was that an electrical expert was called in to change the tube.
In today’s society, children are not allowed to enjoy a jungle gym, swing on a swing, or play on a seesaw. It is necessary to put up a warning sign above a kettle informing people that the contents may be hot. People cannot be in the office while deep cleaning is taking place in case of a hazardous substance spill. There are numerous examples of Health & Safety gone wrong. It’s ridiculous to imagine that we can protect everyone from injury. Things go wrong. Accidents happen. People get hurt, this is a fact of life, a reality of being human. We are fragile, we bleed, we experience pain, and through it we learn. We gain knowledge which we can impart to others. We understand risk and appreciate danger. Is Health & Safety destroying this? Are we loosing our humanity as a result of stringent laws dictating what is safe and what is not?
Companies are being squeezed more and more as margins are cut further and further. As a nation we need a strong, vibrant economy in a day and age of difficult times. It is essential to stimulate new business, to ensure that yes there is a policy in place protecting staff and the public, but to make it one that is affordable and easy enough to follow. The airplane wasn’t invented in an environment of perfect safety, and its designers and test pilots put themselves at great risk testing it out. Look where it got us. We didn’t learn that buildings can be built against the destructive forces of nature without one or two of them falling down. Society grows through taking risks.
How did the Egyptians build the pyramids? Could we ask human kind complete the same feat today? Or is it true that down the ages of time, we’ve interfered in the process of skilling ourselves so much that we’ve lost much of the skills, experience and knowledge that mankind has learnt over generation after generation?
The current government is doing a lot to put Britain back on track, and getting us back to productive, profitable and prosperous life. In my opinion, it’s about time that they looked carefully at the whole idea of Health & Safety and took a reality check. In addition, I honestly think that WE as society need to take a look at ourselves. Yes, reality check number two is for us. We have become a nation of idle, lazy people that don’t question anything, do little to skill ourselves, and find it all to easy to leave it to someone else to sort, fix or make right. It is our responsibility to take the bull by the horns and make it work. We need to think less about suing the pants off each other for any little thing, kick the “Injury” lawyers into touch, and learn to cope with life again. Be inquisitive, be passionate and be skilled.