Over the past decade of working in Health and Safety, many, many times have I been in situations where I have been left ashamed of H&S. One such scenario was when I was working for a large house building contractor. A site manager was preparing his breakfast and couldn’t find a knife to butter his toast. So he used an alternative of a Stanley knife blade. To make this situation worse he then also cut himself. The reaction to this injury is what makes me cringe. The building company banned Stanley blades from all sites. Unreal, why didn’t the company just discipline the manager? H&S can only go so far to protect employees and more often than not requires staff to take account of their action.
But is H&S becoming a Hazard? On a recent conversation on an IOSH course I delivered, I admitted that I care for my children differently to what I would advise maybe a school or nursery to. For example, I was telling the story about how my eldest son fell into a pond, I had warned him that he could fall in as he was getting too close to the edge. I decided to stop warning him and allow him to make his own decisions, this way, I feel he would learn quicker and make better decisions in the future. I stayed close to my son and without much amazement, he fell in. Soaked, covered in green slime, we were about 45 minutes away from a change of clothes so he had to stay in wet clothes for something near an hour. Since that event, my son hasn’t fallen into any water again and now keeps a respectful distance. Lesson learnt I feel.
The reason I father my children in this manner is that I want them to learn that their decisions have consequences, (I must add, I do not allow them to get near life threatening risks like fire or rip tides! I make sure I have full supervision with them and make sure they are all safe at all times as any good parent should), I want them all to respect risk and manage themselves better. However, imagine I went to a school which had a pond, they were worried about that pond with children falling in. Now imagine that I sat in a meeting in the school and said- don’t worry let them fall in they won’t get that hurt and they will learn not to do it again just makes sure someone is nearby. I am not sure I would get any repeat business from that meeting. So what the school could do is remove the pond.
Here lies the problem. My professional opinion, I nod aggressively at the decision to remove the pond as it meets the standards of the principals of prevention and with all the other risks associated with a pond, this works! Now, I have a pond in the garden (which I actually don’t but just imagine), my partner suggests getting rid of it, in my fatherly opinion, I shake my head aggressively and say the pond stays!
What we are at risk of breading in the UK with H&S, is a generation of people fully unaware or risk. When I am in Dad mode, my kids need to learn risk and rightly so, but I cannot as a professional agree to exposing children to risks. But as a result, children and people now at risk of not becoming aware of what will hurt them as they have never seen or experienced risk. It is not just schools, it’s all children areas from parents to scouts to public parks. This is then the question in the blog, is H&S becoming a hazard?
In a QI episode the term Risk Compensation was brought up. Basically, if we remove risk from a human, said human will take greater risks. Hence a car manufacturer developed a car with a spike on the steering wheel, which in turn will make the driver more conscious, that if they were to even bump a curb or hit a pothole there was a risk of death. When a human can see risk they adjust their ways, when they can’t see risk they take greater risks.
Over the years have car accidents reduced? Consider the amount of drivers we now have and how many accidents there are. We still have them, even now, even when we have lane assist cars, or reversing sensors, or auto braking systems, or a car that parks itself!!!
The reality is that if we remove risk, we increase the chance of humans taking a bigger risk. So, should we allow people to be exposed to risk in order for H&S to work? I seem to think we do. But we need to expose everyone to controlled risk. For instance, going back to the pond issue, at a school we can have a pond, it can be in an enclosed area with a fence and a gate. We can have set visitation times with supervision from teachers for each class. We can also have a backup set of clothing and towel in the off chance a child falls in as well as medical provisions. Does that sound better? A controlled risk that lets children learn and develop.
The HSE is trying its hardest to ensure that all business are managing risks to an acceptable level and not becoming too risk adverse. The HSE, I feel are fighting a losing battle as many H&S advisors are not implementing what the HSE are saying.
So I suppose, in my opinion, the answer to the question, is H&S becoming a Hazard? Is YES, it can be.
If H&S is not sensible and managed properly it can lead to greater issues in the long run. If companies continue to mismanage H&S it can lead to greater risks being taken and creating more significant accidents.
However please tell me what you think, do you have an opinion on this?