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We all pay the price

I've talked before in the blog about the confusion that exists over what health and safety actually stands for.

Reading some of the responses to my own letter in one of the national newspapers recently, it was brought home to me yet again just how much confusion exists between what health and safety law requires and the decisions that people take off their own back or on the advice of others to reduce the risk of being sued.

The majority of the perverse decisions we see reported by the media can be traced back to fears of civil claims, and that is evidenced by the 50+ cases which we have now seen in the Myth Busters Challenge Panel.

Whether or not we have a compensation culture in Britain, the fear of being sued is real and significant, and has an impact on the judgment of employers, volunteers, teachers and even to parents, when they invite other children to play in their house or garden.

My letter to the Telegraph made it clear that 'health and safety' had not prevented the tug of war competition from taking place at the fete in Jeremy Vine's village. A few sensible precautions, like ensuring sufficient space between the (presumably) burly men taking part and the crowd would have sufficed to avoid the risk of anyone getting crushed during the contest. But the concerns here were all about civil claims: health and safety law doesn't even apply to fetes and public events where there is no work involved.

The now infamous conkers myth is another story of fear of civil claims, not about health and safety law, along with banning hanging baskets, bunting and running in pancake races.

We can only tackle the problem if we understand its cause. The Myth Busters Challenge Panel is doing its bit to give people the courage to challenge the jobsworths who trot out the 'health and safety' excuse, but don't we all have to recognise the need to change our collective culture? If I fall over in the street its more likely to be because I wasn't looking out for myself, rather than it being someone else's 'fault' that the pavement was uneven or slippy.

If my child falls over and cuts her knee at school or at someone else's house, they've learned a valuable lesson to be more careful in future, not created an opportunity for me to make a claim on their behalf. And I really would like the adult who is there to put a plaster on for me - not be too scared to do so in case I sue. Or am I just being old fashioned?

2016-04-13