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A sting in the tale

Some of the debates which take place on social media are fascinating - if not sometimes a little disturbing.

I came across a debate raging last week among health and safety professionals, not about major health and safety risks but about the right response to a wasp sting if it happens in the workplace.

Someone somewhere had been stung while in the workplace and the work manager was demanding to see the risk assessment and wanted a full investigation into the incident. The originator of the debate had been tasked with conducting the investigation.

But what to investigate? How the wasp found its way into the workplace? How to prevent further wasp stings? Should there have been a risk assessment for wasps in the workplace? Should the incident be recorded in the accident log? Is there a need for safety signs saying "Beware of wasps"?!

It was shocking to see the number of contributors to the online debate who supported doing a risk assessment and conducting an investigation or trying to come up with measures to prevent a recurrence and so on. I hope most of you reading this share my view this would be a totally disproportionate response?

Now, there are a few people who can react very badly to wasp stings – they can trigger allergic reactions that can - in extremis - be fatal. Even so, after someone gets stung in the workplace surely the common sense approach is to check that the organisation’s first aid response was administered quickly and effectively? Is there anyone on the workforce known to have an allergic reaction? Simple follow up steps – no need for lengthy risk assessments and investigations.

Perhaps the most worrying thing in the debate was a general sense that too many senior managers’ knee jerk reaction to any incident, no matter how trivial, is to call for a "full investigation" – leaving the poor health and safety adviser having to explain to everyone why they are investigating a wasp sting!

What on earth is going on here? No one can seriously expect to be prosecuted because an employee was stung. It’s highly unlikely an employee would even pursue a civil claim against the employer. So why investigate? What is there to learn? Not a lot.

It’s time for some leadership here and it should start with managers showing common sense and determining real incidents for concern and responding appropriately, and its time for health and safety advisers to be frank and tell their bosses when an "over the top" reaction is likely to do more harm than good.

2016-04-13