It’s health and safety gone mad

In Stewart Lee’s first series of his Comedy Vehicle, he made the point that a lot of people seem to be getting quite confused between Health and Safety and Political Correctness. I was exposed to this the other night in a taxi. I know you should never take what taxi drivers say to heart, but sometimes it is priceless. I am thinking of pitching to the TV channel Dave a show called ‘Cab drivers say the funniest things’.

It was icy on the night and the driver was getting worked up on his favourite subject of pensions. He’d already had a few attempts at the subject. Now he said, “see this ice? You see all of this ice right? Why aren’t they gritting the pavements? Why do you think they aren’t gritting the pavements? I’ll tell you why. They’ll grit them up here next to the shops. They’ll grit them in front of the shops alright, but not outside your house, oh no. You know why? Health and safety. They can’t grit outside your house can they? ‘Cos if they grit outside your house and they miss one little bit of ice and you find it, you can sue ’em if you slip. But outside shops it’s different because of all the laws. Anyway as long as they all get their pensions I guess it’s all right. I mean, that’s all they’re worried about, not your ice.”

I didn’t really know what to say about this, so I just kind of mumbled something vaguely positive-sounding and hoped for the subject to change. My guess is that they don’t have the money to pay for gritting your pavement. But the companies pay business rates and so get preferential treatment. But… But… There is a strange kernel of interest to derive from all of this.

A lot of people seem to not like health and safety regulations. Partly because they only seem to restrict you. And you don’t notice the times when they save you. It’s like computer downtime or train delays. People’s perceptions magnify the memories of when things go wrong because things being normal is quite literally unremarkable. So the rules seem pointless.

So people say, “wouldn’t it be better if people were to take responsibility for themselves?”. The people who say this are also the kind of people who are sure that all other drivers are maniacs. They say, “people should take responsibility for themselves” as though they haven’t met other people.

There is, I suppose, a point to part of their argument and it is a bit like the grit argument. If you know the whole pavement is icy, you know you have to be careful. If it looks gritted and clear but little bit of ice remains, you might not be as careful and it might be more dangerous. People posit arguments like this about health and safety all the time and I’m pretty sure I see a logical fallacy here.

You want to make people more aware that things are scary so that they take responsibility. That means you already don’t think they can take responsibility for themselves.

7 thoughts on “It’s health and safety gone mad

  1. RubberGoat says:

    I work in an industry where H&S is the number one priority. Why?Because even when the road is a little icy then it still could trip you up. We are constantly reminded of where to apply the 'grit' to ensure there is minimal 'ice' or risk to yourselves and colleagues. We also really stress that it is everyone's responsibility to stay safe and report or act over anything – even the smallest detail. Because the only way to ensure a safe condition is to be proactive about it.I'm not saying accidents don't happen – of course they still do. But a proactive and supportive safety culture is the only way to ensure that a dangerous industry is made safe.

  2. Steven Roy says:

    The reason they grit outside shops is that loads of people go there and they don't have cars parked outside them early in the morining or late at night so that the gritters can get to them.There is no point gritting outside houses if people drive to a main road to discover it has not been gritted. People always object to health and safety without thinking about what they are saying. Would those same people agree to us drinking to the point of stupour before driving a car while on the phone and that car having no seat belts, crumple zones or having the kind of interior fittings that used to cause fatal head injuries? Of course not and the same applies to any other aspect of health and safety legislation.

  3. Alex Andronov says:

    Thanks for the comments RubberGoat and Steven Roy.I absolutely agree. People like to complain because of course they don't realise all of the times that it helps them massively. They only notice it when it stops them from doing the stupid thing they've decided to do right then.

  4. Pat W says:

    I guess some people just see conspiracies everywhere. Can I blame the Daily Mail?

  5. Alex Andronov says:

    Pat I should think so. It's all about fear isn't it. There was a headline in the Daily Mail the other day which was actually, "I don't like homeless people, because they are poor and they smell."

  6. Christine says:

    I was driving at night time and wasn't really paying enormous attention to what was coming towards me (obviously I was sticking to my side of the road to avoid it).A gritter was gritting and sprayed my windscreen, scaring the life out of me.I wasn't mad, though, because I'd rather that than be slipping down the hill later.I don't think this really addresses your point, but is a story nonetheless.

  7. Alex Andronov says:

    Well Christine it is interesting in the context of health and safety sometimes being dangerous. Te law of unintended consiquences I suppose.My brother had an interesting gritting story which was that in Hackney they had gritting lorries going out from the council last thing at night. And the next morning first thing the council had the street / road sweeper vans going out to clean rubbish off the road which was clearing off all of the grit.

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