Just when did Health and Safety has become a dirty word? Once it would have been seen as the working man's defence against finger-removing machinery or asbestos-laced working environments. Now it is the meddling maiden aunt, wagging its finger at us for using a lift incorrectly.
There is a case for saying it is victim of its own success. As recently as the 1970s, thousands of British workers died every year from untrained operatives incorrectly using unsafe equipment. Since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974, fatal injuries at work have fallen by 76%. In the EU, Britain has one of the lowest rates of workplace fatalities, and the numbers continue to fall year on year. Clearly the story "No-one died at work today" will not sell many papers, so the media latches on to over zealous H&S practice to ridicule the entire profession.
Playing into their hands this week was the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, who disciplined three firefighters for sleeping on the floor, instead of designated chairs bought for the purpose. Or as they rather pompously described it "involvement in the use of unauthorised rest facilities" (click here for full story). The Health and Safety Executive have so far refused to say whether furniture-related injuries had hampered the operation of the Fire Service in the past, but they were clearly taking no chances.
And with good reason too, for there is clearly cause for concern. In 2005, in separate incidents, a south London drug dealer was murdered on his sofa, while a man in the USA was crushed to death on a settee by an ice-laden tree. And just last year, two people were crushed to death in Saudi Arabia, in the grand opening of IKEA in Jeddah. Given the challenges firefighters face every day in their job, why take the risk?
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