Separating health and safety’s myth and reality
Sally Sykes, communications director for the Health and Safety Executive, writes for Freshfield on the challenges of debunking health and safety myths.
Having been at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for over two years, I have seen plenty of myths about ‘elf n’ safety’, many of which seem to proliferate during the festive season.
I head up HSE’s communications team who work tirelessly to change perceptions and differentiate the serious work of the HSE in regulating industries like chemicals, nuclear power and offshore oil drilling.
With a number of serious high-profile safety failures in 2010, such as the tragic events of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the New Zealand mining disaster, the topic of workplace fatalities has rarely been out of the news. The Chilean mining accident had a happy ending, thankfully, but it too highlighted the dangerous world of work and the anxiety of loved ones when things go wrong.
For us in HSE, these real tragedies, and the daily reports we investigate of deaths in farming, construction, waste and recycling and other hazardous occupations, are a stark reminder of the differences between real health and safety issues and the trivia dressed up as ‘elf n safety’.
This year though, we have also seen something of a change to a focus on common sense approaches in low-hazard areas and a sense of people starting to appreciate that the real culprits for excessive so-called ‘health and safety bureaucracy’ are often those seeking to cover up decisions made on insurance cost grounds or for fear of being sued. Moreover, we’ve seen a realisation that the real villain is the ‘compensation culture’, which has pervaded our society (not to mention the advertising billboards in our hospital A&E departments up and down the country).
While there are probably still going to be more health and safety silly stories (the range has not ceased to amaze me these last two years) we have debunked so many in HSE that we have now officially retired our ‘Myth of the Month’ series after four years of posters, monthly myth-busting and our annual calendar.
With that, may I wish everyone a safe and healthy 2011.