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Written by
on 10 August 2015


Health and Safety is important for everyone

Health and Safety at WorkIf you watched the BBC One drama ‘The `Interceptor’ recently, you will have heard Trevor Eve’s character, Roach, bawling at one of his employees:

Oi lad, get those gloves off! You’re a scaffolder! Health and safety is for girls and window cleaners.”

Predictably, the chastened junior duly removed his work gloves and continued moving heavy scaffolding poles unprotected. All very amusing and totally in line with the lack of moral fortitude one might expect of a guy who deals drugs on the side. Except that the blasé attitude towards health and safety is still a reality in some industries.

No laughing matter

Stories of elf n’ safety are all too common, making the serious matter of protecting workers and the public a popular joke. How can you not laugh at stories of children being forced to wear goggles when playing conkers, or the removal of city centre hanging baskets for fear of them falling on passersby?

But when clear examples of elf n’ safety become well-known, people begin to regard other, genuine health and safety guidelines and procedures with contempt. And their logic almost makes sense: If the chances of a piece of conker breaking off and hitting me in the eye are all but negligible, then I don’t need to wear goggles. Or gloves when moving scaffolding. Or a hard hat when working on a building site. Because if the danger of conkers is overstated, then the guidelines about gloves and hard hats is likely to be too.

In reality, many of the worst accidents happen on site through complacency; workers know the guidelines for safety, but any additional burden encourages them to create shortcuts, or to circumvent the guidelines all together. And in many respects, it is these shortcuts coupled with a dated sense of machismo create characters like Roach.

Traditionally men love to demonstrate their physical and mental superiority over their colleagues, such as not using protective gloves because to do so seems unmanly. Often this desire for one-upmanship leads to risky behaviour that places individuals and other members of their crew in danger. An asbestos shovelling competition in 1970s Australia saw hundreds of workers exposed to deadly dust as they each tried to prove they were better than their colleagues at moving the deadly substance quickly for instance.

The good news is that these silly elf n’ safety rules, and dangerously competitive co-workers are relatively rare. Most actions really are undertaken with a view to raising standards and improving site safety. And the good news is that work-related deaths continue to fall – precisely because Trevor Eve’s attitude towards health and safety is now in a minority.

So over to you – share your health and safety horror stories. Or give us an example of a dangerous ego in your workplace.

About the author

David Cant is a Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME’s favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick. You can find him across social media on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.