We often hear about “health and safety gone mad”. Whether it’s politicians looking for an excuse not to do something, newspapers seeking a shock headline or comedians looking for a cheap laugh, health and safety is an easy target. I can imagine the bulging veins of all the Mail readers at the mere mention of health and safety – but then Mail readers are like that anyway. They need to keep their blood pressure up to get an erection – that’s why they had to introduce the Mail on Sunday.
Of course there are all sorts of safety hazards – and it very much depends on your perspective. For example I’d ban umbrellas for anyone who can’t carry them higher than 6ft from the ground! You might not want to get wet – but I don’t want to lose an eye. It’s not just the Bulgarian Secret Police – umbrellas are a hazard in anyone’s hands. This menace must be stopped! “Ah,” you say, “what about all those poor kids who can’t play a simple game of conkers thanks to interfering health & safety busy-bodies.” Well, first off, there are no conkers because we’ve killed off all the conker trees, ironically enough, not with health and safety but with pollution – which we might have avoided if someone had organised a simple risk assessment! Secondly, kids these days aren’t allowed outside long enough to find any conkers let alone play with them. That’s not health and safety but the paedo-mania that’s stoked up by the media. As a result you can’t run a football club or a scout troop without your whole life history being vetted by the police. So people don’t run them.
None of this is about health and safety but ambulance chasing layers and insurance schemes that have made it so difficult to organise these great events so symbolic of British culture – and let’s face it you couldn’t find anything that symbolised Britain in one glorious cultural event than a crowd of fuck-wits chasing a rancid cheese… downhill!! The media would have you believe that up and down the country you’ve got millions of people desperate to get out and play conkers, chase cheeses downhill and head-butt maggots onto javelin points for all I know – but the evil health and safety anorak stops them. Except that he doesn’t. Nine times out of ten it is someone else who wants to stop something from happening but health and safety makes an easy scape-goat – especially if the people in power have other reasons to undermine legitimate health and safety concerns.
What health and safety is about is the avoidance or minimisation of risk. That’s not the same as banning anything that is risky. If that was the case no-one would be able to buy a Wii due to the risk of decapitating your granny while trying to return serve to Andy Murray. Of course you can still buy a Wii so it’s not that. But the Wii carries a warning to play safely so that’s good enough – especially if you’re a trans-national corporation with expensive lawyers on call 24/7. They have the power to argue that you shouldn’t have had your granny running the net to pick up imaginary tennis balls so it’s not their fault you took her head off with a plastic paddle – that it’s your fault for being a fuckwit! And for once I’d have to admit that the trans-nationals were right.
But Charlie the Cheese Chase Coordinator doesn’t have armies of lawyers. He gets a couple of first aiders and stands up the top of the hill saying, “Steady now!” – which frankly should be enough – but oh no, not when there are the ambulance chasers on hand. They say, “Where there’s blame there’s a claim!” Well, who’s to blame for your client being a fuck-wit?!
“Well your honour, expecting people just to be careful at these events is clearly inadequate. Your Honour, I ask you to consider… who but a fuck-wit would want to chase dairy products downhill? Look at my client. He is clearly a fuck-wit. In fact he is so much of a fuck-wit that he doesn’t even know he’s a fuck-wit! He even has the idea that he’s going to get rich from the damages for his fractured toe! Not once my fees have been taken into account he won’t! The defendant should have been aware that his event was going to attract a higher percentage of fuck-wits than would be found in the average sample – and should therefore the responsibility is his.” And so, the only way they can run these events is to take out huge public liability insurance – which of course is expensive.
So it’s not about health and safety, it’s about power and profit – for the insurance companies, the lawyers and of course the employers. Because that’s the point. If you want to take a risk in your own time, be it chasing a cheese downhill or sniffing glue or getting blow jobs from moray eels, that’s your business. But when you’re at work and your boss tells you to do something there’s a power relationship at play – and you generally end up doing what he asks. And if you think it looks risky he tells you not to be a big tart, it’s all perfectly safe and if you don’t want to do the job there’s plenty of others who will. So off you go, licking up acid with your tongue, or whatever other “reasonable request” comes out of his brandy soaked brain – and once you’ve burnt your tongue off he sacks you for poor communication skills!
Every year hundreds of people go to work only to be returned to their families in a coffin! Hundreds of thousands more suffer an injury at work. Over a million end up suffering from work-related illnesses. That’s the red tape that the government is so keen to free us from! The very same red tape that they will call on to prevent us from organising our the events that enrich our lives and strengthen our communities. The hypocrisy of this is breath-taking. Worse than that it is a cynical manipulation of the true situation. That’s why words matter – and using health & safety as a cheap laugh kills people. If you want a cheap laugh get your knob out!