And this week’s tabloid newspaper ‘Headline Competition’ is…

Dead mouse in Hovis loaf - Click for full size

Go on, what’s the tabloid headline for picture?

Although the dead mouse found in a bread loaf story is (relatively) serious, the media appear once again to be airing on their side of the anti Health & Safety war. Thanks to the way the media (generally) report anything with the remotest Health & Safety content, the public perception of Health & Safety legislation (and practitioners) is one of a kill joy.

This witch hunt type methodology,  if it continues, runs the risk of undoing all the sensible work that has taken place in this field over the years. Despite it being a fairly well-known fact, I will say it again… Health & Safety legislation and those who apply it ARE NOT the harbingers of doom the media would have us believe.

The problem is, the relatively recent phenomenon of our ‘No Win, No Fee’ litigious society. Who can I take to task and ultimately hold responsible for my own stupidity, and whilst I’m at it, earn a few extra quid on the side?

BBC News: A food production company was ordered to pay nearly £17,000 after a man found a dead mouse in a loaf of bread as he made sandwiches for his children. (Read more)

Although the bread story is factual, and the firm was subsequently fined £5,500 and ordered to pay £11,109.47 in costs (Oxford Crown Court) you have to wonder; was the ‘complainant’ actually “shaken” and “feeling ill” at the time of the incident or, was he only ‘reminded’ of the horrendous levels of ‘distress’ after consulting the local branch of litigation specialists ‘Win Win & Co Solicitors’?

The latter part of the report (almost as an after thought), may have mentioned that, local environmental health officers were ‘happy’ with the bread producers normal Food Safety arrangements. As if that is in some way ok, hasn’t the remainder of the story (and the way it was worded) already done the damage? This type of reporting is almost a daily occurrence and one which skews public understanding about the subject. It is also one of the reasons why the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) had to resort to a Myth of the month section on their website.

To continue some of recent and somewhat biased H&S reporting we have: –

BBC News: Britain’s Ministry of Defence has ordered its bandsmen to wear earplugs to conform with health and safety laws. (Read more)

It is a well understood fact that; continuous exposure to loud noise is likely to result in adverse (often irreversible) effects upon your hearing. The fact that this issue is now well-known is in many ways, thanks to several years of scientific research on behalf of the Health & Safety industry. The levels of noise ‘risk’ that a military bandsmen (or women) is exposed to has been assessed and deemed to be high. Quite sensibly, ear defenders have been recommended, to mitigate and control that risk.

If the issue ended there, and the wearing of ear defenders was an individual’s optional choice that would be fine but it doesn’t. We end up with situations whereby employers are almost obliged to enforce something, a control measure that in real terms, is simply a recommendation but why?

Some would say that it is just another example of the Nanny State. There may be an element of that but consider the legal requirement for the wearing of motorcycle crash helmets and car seatbelts. These two pieces of legislation were once viewed with similar disdain however, they are now (almost exclusively) accepted as sensible personal precautions to prevent injury. As a slight aside; many motorcyclists also now wear earplugs to protect their hearing when riding their machines.

BBC News: Members of the Adlington and District Millennium Committee hoped to bake an array of treats for a meeting at their village library on Friday. But Lancashire County Council said it would breach health and safety rules. (Read more)

The local authority cited “legal restrictions” as the reason for them only allowing commercially produced and “packaged goods with clearly labelled ingredients”? Once again it is not H&S legislation that is actually the kill joy. It is the fear held by officials at the local authority. Fear that someone is likely to eat a cake and then make some outrageously massive claim for compensation due to a nut allergy or a bout of food poisoning. I would suggest that anyone who has a genuine allergy to any food product, would normally be meticulous about reading labels and content information on any product. If there wasn’t a label, they simply wouldn’t eat it in the first place, a sensible precaution against adverse reaction.

It’s not Health & Safety legislation that is stupid per se, although there may be a minor element of stupid application (due to poorly trained and/or officious practitioners), it is actually our society. Stupid and greedy for financial gain!

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