Monday, 14 July 2008

"Elf and safety Nazis?" They're as real as the tooth fairy...

On a semi-regular basis, right-wing commentators such as Richard Littlejohn will regularly spout off about "Elf and Safety Nazis." The implication is that health and safety law in the UK is so restrictive and so full of ridiculous regulations that almost nothing of any interest is actually allowed any more in case people get hurt. Here's one such example:
Officials in Gateshead have been touring chip shops confiscating salt shakers with more than five holes in them.
They have spent £2,000 on replacements, which are being given away free.
Middlesborough council have issued fish & chip shops 5 hole salt shakers instead of the normal 17 holed ones to try and get people to use less salt on their meals.
According to a spokesman: 'Research carried out by us discovered customers were often receiving huge quantities of salt with their fish and chips - up to half their daily allowance.'


It's none of the council's damn business how much salt people choose to consume.
If the taxpayers of Gateshead wish to sit around eating salt by the tubload until their arteries resemble a Siberian mineshaft, that's entirely a matter for them.
Their GP might want a quiet word with them, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the tinpot condiment nazis at the Town Hall.
You can find huge archives of such stories, where over-zealous officials have all but wrapped citizens in bubble wrap to prevent them hurting themselves by living their day to day lives. There's only one problem with such stories; the fact that, despite Littlejohn's constant assertion that "you couldn't make it up," he and others so very often do. So much so, in fact, that the Health and Safety Executive's website has a "Myth of the Month" section, dedicated to debunking such scurrilous claims.

I'll cite just a few pertinent examples:

The "Ban" on Firefighters' Poles
"It was widely reported that a fire station was built without the traditional pole for 'health and safety' reasons.

As the county’s Chief Fire Officer said: 'Whilst every consideration regarding health and safety was taken into account, the reason a pole was not included was purely due to space restrictions.'

Poles are not banned and firefighters around the country continue to use them."

Teachers "Sued" by Pupils
"The main legal duties lie with the employer, not the teacher – or even the head teacher, unless they own the school and employ the staff.

We can’t find a single instance in the past five years of a teacher being personally sued for compensation.

Over the years a handful of teachers have been prosecuted following very serious incidents, but only where they failed to follow direct instructions and departed from common sense.

Teachers who act responsibly will be on the right side of the law."

"Hard Hats" for Trapeze Artists
"Despite being widely reported at the time and regularly repeated since, this story is utter nonsense. There never were any such regulations.

Hard hats do an excellent job of protecting building workers from falling debris - but they have no place on a trapeze."

Christmas Decorations "Banned"
"Bah Humbug! Each year we hear of companies banning their workers from putting up Christmas decorations in their offices for ‘health and safety’ reasons, or requiring the work to be done by a ‘qualified’ person.

Most organisations including HSE and local councils manage to put up their decorations, celebrating the spirit of Christmas without a fuss. They just sensibly provide their staff with suitable step ladders to put up decorations rather than expecting staff to balance on wheelie chairs."

Nearly every incident of "Elf and Safety Nazism" is either covered in this section of the website or a variant of one of the covered myths, and therefore utter nonsense. In fact, it has got to the point now where such regular rehashing of the myths, rather than any actual regulations, is the cause behind cases of over-zealous actions by companies. People, believing the constant barrage of media propaganda, are acting in accordance with these non-existent "laws" and thus making the stories themselves self-fulfilling prophecies.

The response is simple. In order to stop people acting rashly and ridiculously in compliance with regulations that don't exist and, more importantly, to stop authorities removing necessary and life-saving health and safety regulations in a populist response to the perception that "health and safety has got out of control," we need to counter these lies and stop companies and individuals from behaving as if they really exist.

The sooner the better.