Nicola Barry

Health & Safety

The blight that is health & safety

You can't take pictures in here

You can’t take pictures in here (Photo credit: sardinista)

The phenomenon of overzealous Health & Safety officials is nothing new. It is not the modern blight we all make out it is, according to Dr Mike Esbester, of the University of Portsmouth, but is, in fact, a century old. He describes some of the early Health and Safety advice, with their exaggerated posed photographs, as “unintentionally hysterical”. One shows a man lying under the wheels of a train beneath the legend: “If you happen to slip”. Doh! We seem to have learned nothing in all that time and over-cautious is still the name of the game. The zeal of PC officials to protect us from life’s knocks and bruises, which previous bureaucrats took for granted, just makes them look stupid and petty.

A few years ago, the grand burghers of Dundee City Council, or, more precisely, the Education Department’s grandly titled advice and conciliation manager, forbad its schools from providing home-baking stalls at summer events. Given that baking of such a kind is usually to raise money for the school or provide the staff and pupils with much needed treats, the decision was cruel as well as fatuous. Every single edict from central or local government becomes more ludicrous than the last, proving that the Nanny State is not just some figment of your wildest imaginings but a grim reality. The Governments, of both Holyrood and Westminster, keep telling us we are a bunch of fat, lazy consumerists, who attempt to thrive on sugar, salt, fat, alcohol and wheeze-inducing smoke.

The Nanny State says that, as a nation, we eat so much we can barely get though our own front doors without a crowbar. Nanny offers little compassion and a scolding finger, the ubiquitous jabbing forefinger – even if the facts she keeps pointing out are somewhat obvious, such as sugar makes you fat and too many gins make you drunk. Nanny’s rules go on and on. You shouldn’t play conkers at school. Rugby is too tough for small boys. No pictures of children must ever be taken at the school panto. You name it, some idiot from health & safety has outlawed it. If home baking isn’t good enough for a school fun day how come it is good enough to eat round the kitchen table? Why has it not been banned across Dundee as a whole? Why have the supermarket shelves not all been cleared of flour, baking soda, currants and those dainty little paper cups in which the cakes are served?


It’s difficult to comprehend the mindset of a true jobsworth. It’s a term usually used to describe a council official or parking attendant; a person whose favourite line tends to be, “Its more than my job’s worth to let you off, mate,” while enforcing some petty regulation or other. They are always people with very little authority. In fact, being a jobsworth gives them the only power they are ever likely to enjoy in their dull little lives, which is why they relish every moment of it. In 2013, there are more jobsworths out there than ever; little people hell-bent on doing what they can to prevent Joe and Jill Public from being happy. So, what exactly is a jobsworth? He or she always has a pinched, suspicious face, sour nature, and an aptitude for refusing to contemplate stepping outside the rules by even a millimetre. The true jobsworth is one who knows the rules backwards, realises that there is plenty of flexibility and chooses not to use it.It is important to distinguish them from someone who really has no flexibility and would lose their job if they acted in a contradictory way.

Where did all this start? How did people ever begin sticking their noses into business which did not concern them? Local authority and government employees, people who say they are public servants, who are paid with our council and income taxes, seem to think they know what is best for us. And, that is what a nanny is for, isn’t it?

Before they invent their little rules, there is no consultation, no deliberation – just this hard-and-fast diktat which makes absolutely no sense to 99 per cent of the population it affects. Political correctness has become the bane of our lives. It would be better if we just stayed indoors, didn’t go anywhere or do anything. Everyone, especially, schoolchildren has to take risks. It is part and parcel of growing up. But biting into a home-made scone in the school playground? I can think of a better use for an oven than baking – and it involves the advice and conciliation manager.

That just takes the biscuit.

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2 Thoughts on “Health & Safety

  1. Nicola Barry on August 15, 2013 at 8:58 am said:

    Hi Mujerlibre, your comments really made me think, so, thank you for taking the trouble to post them. Nicola

  2. mujerlibre on August 14, 2013 at 8:55 pm said:

    Your post makes me so sad. Yes, we can all quote some anecdote about a town hall bureaucrat who bans conkers or forbids scones. We all know of some manager who just doesn’t understand or have the training and is so afraid he/she will lose their job ithat they over-risk-assess . Replacing common-sense with what they believe the law requires.
    But the examples you quote do not reflect ‘the law’.
    I was formerly employed as an HM Inspector of H&S. The ‘whatthehell’ attitude is what kills. The pressure from a boss to finish a job at speed results in disabled machinery guards and finally, mutilations and disability or death. Working from height can kill if the safety equipment is not supplied or adequate or the employee does not know the safe procedure. Construction sites can be lethal.
    I spent the first few months asking my then boss: ‘but why on earth would anyone put their hand/finger/leg/body in their?’ And the rest of the time learning that people do really daft things.
    The Dundee ban related to the potential risk of bacteria etc in home-baked goods – not its fattening effects. The Council took their (ott) step because they were running scared of personal injury claims. Our society has become increasingly litigious – and this in turn drives increasing caution in service-provider decisions. You may as well blame the trend to litigation as rant about ‘health and safety’.

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