Sunday, October 11, 2009

Health and Safety

Health and Safety has become one of the tabloids' favourite bogeymen. Every time I read my mother's copy of the Daily Mail, there seems to be a story about how killjoy bureaucrats are attacking Britain's long-cherished traditions in the name of health and safety.

If a new law is introduced banning young children from holding sparklers, the Daily Mail will somehow manage to interpret it as part of the ongoing conspiracy between Brussels, New Labour, Islamists, environmentalists, gay people and cosmopolitan metrosexual types to emasculate Britain. At no point will there ever be an intelligent debate, informed by some facts.

Two days later, a flury of letters will be published from readers, most of whom seem to be called Colin or Jean. Colin will invariably complain that we didn't spend five years fighting Naziism to end up being taken over by a load of foreigners, whilst Jean will blame poor discipline and declining church attendance. Both Colin and Jean will see health and safety regulations as an attack on good old-fashioned common sense and personal responsibilty.

However, the Colin and Jeans of this world have short memories. When they were younger, the UK government produced hundreds of public information films that alerted people to a variety of potential hazards, some of which were only marginally more probable than an alien invasion.

A quick browse through YouTube shows just how paranoid people were, with films on the following dangers:

  • Slippery floor mats
  • Escalators
  • Playing with frisbees near electricity sub-stations
  • Burst pipes
  • Polystyrene ceiling tiles
  • Caravan instability
  • Flying kites near electricity pylons
  • Paraffin heaters
  • Mixing crossply and radial tyres
  • Separate taps
  • Running to catch a bus
  • Lead in paint
  • Rabies
  • Abandoned fridges
  • Frost
  • Strangers
  • Casting a fishing line near an overhead power cable
  • Airbeds
  • Bicycle thefts
  • Smog
  • Fat fires
  • Driving in snow
  • Gas cannisters
  • Frozen ponds
To the modern viewer, most of these films seem laughable, but there is one that is still quite chilling:

So are we really more obsessed with health and safety these days?

I'm not convinced. What has changed is that businesses and organisations are far more anxious to avoid negative publicity and litigation. As a result, we have become overwhelmed by audits, checklists, compliance policies and training courses to ensure that if something does go wrong, we aren't accountable. It doesn't necessarily make things any safer. I have met people who dutifully fill-in their daily and weekly audits without ever checking the physical environment.

One health and safety success story is the decline in the number of pedestrian road deaths during the last 30 years.

These two information films feature Darth Vader actor David Prowse, playing Green Cross Man. In the first, his voice has been dubbed with an actor's dulcet RP tones, but in the second, you can enjoy the full glory of Prowse's Bristol accent.

It's a pity that it was felt necessary to dub Prowse's voice, but can you imagine the alternative, as demonstrated by Mrs Jones's comment below:

"Luke...Oi aam yourr faahthurr."


Mrs Jones said...

I have been known to entertain myself on a wet Sunday afternoon by watching Star Wars and repeating all the James Earl Jones-dubbed Darth Vader dialogue back into Bristolian which, presumably, is how it would have sounded on the set - 'Luke, oim yor faaaaarthur, ooh arrrr'. The fun never stops round my house.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Yet slippers (the clue is in the name) and ridiculous footwear remain unbanned.

Alcohol is available in every late night garage - WHY?

Seems a great many sensible measures are being ignored in favour of banning conkers!

David said...

That hooded figure lurking near the flooded gravel pit used to give me nightmares as a child. I've never seen anything more scary on TV since.

And I remember the cross-ply v radial thing - all my adults seemed to witter on about nothing else, I'm not convinced though that any of them had a clue about what it meant.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I think we all found the hooded figure by the water terrifying.

Wonder how many lives it saved? Lots I hope.

It is noticeable how the government do not seem to give much of a toss about us now re their output of public information films.