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Written by
on 16 October 2014


We’ve all heard the stories. Jobsworths using health and safety as an excuse to make daft decisions for their own reasons, because they’re scared of getting sued, they’ve just got bad customer service, or often because they’re just plain daft!

These kind of stories are simply ridiculous, right?

You’ve probably heard of the bar refusing to pull pints in glasses with handles. Toothpicks removed from restaurant tables. Parents not allowed into school playgrounds to say goodbye to their kids. A banned bubble machine because bubbles are just too dangerous. Every week there’s more.

And these stories are hilarious. But pretty painful to hear too. Because of all the media coverage they get, which most often says health and safety, in general, has gone too far, and then people start taking common sense risk management less seriously. And then you get more accidents from real threats.

How the media has it wrong – Bubbles are Not Asbestos

The media is to blame as much as the jobsworths. Not all of course, but most of them. They often take these stories and then point their fingers at the wrong thing. A man who bans bubble machines is crazy, but the media will have a laugh at him, then broaden their view to have a laugh at UK health and safety in general. It’s just fashionable to do it.

And whenever they do this, they’re implying that the person who takes care around asbestos, which actually kills 87 people a week in the UK, is just as silly. They don’t separate the two. Sorry, I haven’t looked up the statistics for how many people are killed by bubbles each year, but I’m pretty sure it’s less than 87 a week.

The media should just point at the ridiculous jobsworth, and leave it at that.

Good news – Health and Safety still has a great reputation after all!

But there’s good news.

Fortunately, health and safety still has a good rep among those who count in organisations. The people who implement real health and safety standards and procedures with common sense, and see the good results. And everyone else, right throughout the workplace.

A study by business standards company BSI found that 67% of people don’t see health and safety as a negative thing. They don’t think it’s all about paperwork, legislation and bureaucracy. And they see the benefits of an effective health and safety compliance regime far outweigh the costs.

Common sense wins the day

And 93% said the growing focus on health and safety over the last ten years has made a positive impact on their business. Perceptions are improving!

“Health and safety is often seen as ‘red tape’ and an excessive burden,” said Suzanne Fribbins, Risk Management Expert at BSI. “However our results show that this perception is changing. It’s great to see that employers are taking health and safety issues seriously and more importantly, that this clear message from the top is being understood by everybody right down to those on the shop floor.”

Keep the jobsworths away from it

Something we can all do to boost the benefits of health and safety – that is, actually helping our people to stay safe – is to improve the way we communicate about it.

When everyone can see the common sense reasons behind health and safety procedures, and when they are respectfully talked to about each risk. Then they can clearly see the difference between genuine risk management in their favour and some jobsworth idiot went too far.

And the media can help us by making the same distinction!

What do you think about the health and safety environment in the UK – common sense or too much red tape?

Share and let us know!

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A chartered (fellow) safety and risk management practitioner with 20+ years of experience. David provides a healthy dose of how-to articles, advice and guidance to make compliance easier for construction professionals, Architects and the built environment. Get social with David on Twitter and Linkedin.

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