Sense & Safety by Tony Marturano

“Noise accounts for most of the complaints that local councils a receive about environmental pollution because it is a major source of stress….as is a £5,000 fine for a noisy child” 

So last night there was real drama in St Neots, England when one of the rides from the visiting fairground attraction collapsed; 7 people were injured and another 2 were taken to hospital.

I understand that the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) has been notified and will no doubt launch an enquiry which I would hope will include a sub enquiry into the inspector who would or should have conducted an inspection on the failed equipment sometime in the last year, in accordance with HSE guidelines.

HSE LogoHSE is the national independent watchdog for work-related health, safety and illness. It prides itself with the status of independent regulator acting in the public interest to reduce work-related death and serious injury across Great Britain’s workplaces.   Sounds pretty good to me, so why is it that the HSE has managed to make such a bad name for itself over the years as an overprotective, molly coddling, fun smashing killjoy that has spawned a generation of job’s worth’s?

Well, I haven’t interviewed any representatives from the HSE but I’m confident that they’d tell me that they perform a very important role in keeping the general and working public safe and that much of its alleged overbearing, bureaucratic ‘madness’ is pure fabrication, the fruit of some overzealous individuals harbouring their own agenda who are all too eager to use the HSE as scapegoat.

So, I did some digging and I discovered that the HSE  has been so irked by all of the ridiculous accusations laid at its doorstep that it is fighting back through its own ‘myth busting’ web page.  And, of course, this wouldn’t be a Different angle if I didn’t highlight a few for you.

But first…

How many times have you come across your own job’s worth?  You know, that irritating automaton who keeps telling you “Sorry, health and safety” or “for security reasons, we’re only able to discuss details of the account with the account holder”, and, despite your appeals will recite their training, almost verbatim, and refuse to engage in dialogue opting instead to attempt to brainwash with the same infuriating stock line.

I had yet another encounter with one the other day. I was on the phone to Vodafone whom, for my sins, I’ve retained as preferred mobility provider for my company (by mobility I’m talking mobile phones and not scooters). We have over eight devices and associated plans with Vodafone and my trusty assistant and I are of the same mind that we absolutely hate talking to their so called customer care, which is more like customer scare  (into never calling again). We’ve been waiting nearly ONE WHOLE YEAR just to get them to correct the company name on the account, and each time we call they keep telling us it’s done and that we’ll see the difference on our next bill. To this day, it still isn’t fixed, no matter who we speak to there.

Anyway, I digress, the real reason why I mentioned this, the home of some of the most inept staff I have ever spoken to, is because I called ‘business services’ the other day regarding the 2 month wait on the new phone that I had ordered (and was promised at the time would be delivered next day). I was told that, for security reasons, they couldn’t speak to me because I wasn’t the account holder. I explained that I had been speaking to a clutch of his awesome buddies for the past two months, none of which had ever refused to talk to me. He, like a demented robot, simply repeated “I can’t comment on what my colleagues did or did not say but I can’t speak to anybody but the account holder about this account”. I told him I was the CEO of the company. Guess what, he just said the same thing again. I hung up and called back. I spoke to a different person this time and was told exactly the same thing; they could only talk to the account holder. I told them, in no uncertain terms, I was the company owner. I also repeated I had never had this problem before.

Guess what?

Same thing.

I hung up and called back, I got through to somebody else who clearly appeared to enjoy their job slightly more than her colleagues. I explained my predicament and she appeared to take an interest in my plight and promised to get to the bottom of it. She also told me that the two agents I spoke to previously were mistaken; that level of security only applied to personal account holders. She was all too happy to speak to me and repeat what I had been told for the past two months; the phone was still out of stock!

One and a half hours later….. ahhhhhh!

In the unlikely event that the two cretins I spoke to are reading this, here’s some free advice; good customer service is about making sure the customer gets some kind of result. Repeating a stock line because you’re not prepared to make an effort to seek answers on behalf of the customer is quite plain and simply a failure to perform your job, and actually grounds for disciplinary action. In this case, if the two simpletons were unable to help they should have referred it to a supervisor, given that they were actually talking to the company and thus the account owner. That was just being unhelpful.  As it turns out, they were wrong and that’s precisely why had they referred the matter sooner then, hopefully, somebody with a few more brain cells would have been able to identify the fact that they were reciting the wrong security protocols.

Whilst the Vodafone saga is nothing that some decent and consistent training couldn’t fix, there are many of us who are victimised on a daily basis by a band of selfish opportunists who are all too happy to dress up their own lack of knowledge, insecurities, fear of prosecution or downright apathy as policy, this is particularly so when it comes to health and safety.

“Ooh no, can’t do that, mate, health and safety.”

Health & Safety Poster - Take Responsibility

One of the myth busting posters from the HSE; people should take responsibility for their own actions and not always look to apportion blame.

This is one of the reasons why the HSE is fighting back by debunking a whole series of popular myths. Here are a few:

In a previous post I mentioned that a school pupil had been injured by a ‘flying flapjack’. And no it wasn’t from outer space but just something hurled by a careless bratt who clearly had nothing better to do with his or her time. The media reported that the health and safety inspector responded to the incident by banning triangular shaped flapjacks. The reality is that Health and Safety inspectors said no such thing. If a ban was imposed it was a decision made by the school head. The HSE actually stated the problem was with children throwing food and not with the shape of the bar of oats and syrup! Clearly, banning the shape of the food wouldn’t resolve the problem of it being thrown around. Address the problem.

Pinning the tail on the donkey was apparently banned by the HSE because it was too dangerous. The reality is that it was parents who complained about the game being so dangerous it should be banned. The HSE actually stated that banning the traditional party game would be very sad and somewhat overprotective. Parents should supervise their children more closely rather that outlawing a game that is believed to have been around since the 1800s.

Candyfloss was meeting a sticky end because the HSE had imposed a ban on the stick around which the floss is moulded because the stick on its own is dangerous. Really?  No such ban exists; it’s believed that candy floss is falling out of favour because of today’s social trends to dieting and the fact that it’s much easier to mass produce similar sweets.

Bunting at weddings and other events – banned because of health and safety. Not true.  Traditional school ties – banned because they are dangerous. Also a fallacy; the HSE simply want people to exercise some common sense around dangerous equipment. E.g. remove your tie before working with moving machinery and or flames!

Eye wear compulsory when playing conkers.  Not true. This was introduced by misguided head teachers at some schools for ‘health and safety’ reasons.  The HSE believes that playing conkers actually carries a very small risk and sees no reason to ban a game that has transcended generations.

Hanging baskets banned in public places because of the risk of people banging their heads – myth.  Flip flops in the workplace – banned.  Another myth; there’s no law banning flip flops. However, this is one of those classic common sense scenarios; wearing flip flops on a production line or anywhere where there’s a high risk of something heaving falling on your feet is just plain stupid.

And the list goes on…

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m publishing a public service announcement on behalf of the HSE.  I’m not. They haven’t even offered me one of their lovely green posters to hang on my study wall. I’m merely making a point of the fact that there are many lazy, cowardly individuals out there who would much rather ‘hide’ behind the fictitious policies of a safety organisation than stand up for their own belief. In the case of school heads, take responsibility for the children entrusted to you, you have a duty of care. If pupils are throwing food around the food hall then address this antisocial behaviour rather than going off on a tangent and trying to change the shape of the food. If you believe that conkers are dangerous then have the power of your conviction, ban the activity in your school and face up to the disappointed children and their parents. Alternatively, if you feel eyewear is a necessity for competitors when playing a game that has spawned many a professional tournament without serious injury then have the courage to put your name to it.

The HSE’s directive is clear and there’s no doubt that its intervention in many dangerous places helps to avoid serious injury and saves lives but so does common sense which, in my opinion, needs protection from the damaging effects of the litigious society we’ve designed for ourselves. It’s so much easier to sue somebody for not stating the obvious than kicking ourselves for not using basic common sense. Good cases being the woman who sued because she burnt herself on the hot coffee she’d just purchased from a coffee shop, as well as the woman (I’m assuming no relation) who sued because fast food made her fat.


Carrickfergus Borough Council encourages people to report their noisy neighbours and even offers a link to a handy guide for potentially noisy dog owners.

Carrickfergus Borough Council encourages people to report their noisy neighbours and even offers a link to a handy guide for potentially noisy dog owners.

Somewhat controversially, there is also the story of the 4 year old boy from Hull who caused uproar up and down the country when his ‘screaming whilst playing in the garden’ prompted one of the neighbours to complain to the local council who promptly sent his parents a letter stating that unless they ‘quietened’ their son they ran the risk of a £5,000 fine. His parents’ reaction to the letter was first disbelief and then rage.

Now, I know that there are many of you out there, especially mothers, who will sympathise with the plight of little Archie’s parents, in fact many of their neighbours did (interesting since one of them was the alleged complainant) but stop for a second to consider that we do not know the full details of this case. E.g. exactly how long or how regularly Archie played in the garden, subjecting his neighbours to his play screaming. There are undoubtedly many out there, especially parents, who don’t mind, become accustomed to or are able to ‘tune out’ the sound of a ‘screaming’ child but there are many others who don’t have children, who would much prefer to enjoy their time in the garden in peace and quiet. What makes Archie so entitled? Is it because he’s just a little boy? Does that make it okay?

Okay, so how about the man from Bristol who was actually fined £1,300 for disturbing his neighbours with relentless replays of Céline Dion at full volume?  Okay, so apart from the fact that he probably deserved the fine for his musical taste, should we feel any less sympathetic to the man’s right to enjoy his music?

It’s all relative.

One thing that is true of both parties is that they were both ‘shocked at first and then ‘enraged’ to receive the letters and notices form their local council. I can only assume that this was because both also displayed such a breath-taking lack of common sense and or consideration for others. Both displayed a level of selfishness that left their neighbours and, by association, the authorities (who are obliged to take action in such matters) with no alternative. Archie’s mother was quoted as saying, “what am I supposed to do, gag him?”  No, but you could have exercised some common sense and consideration for your neighbours who may also want to enjoy their garden in peace and without the relentless screeches of a playing child, and limit Archie’s playing time in the back garden, then, in your capacity as parent, take your son out to the local park to work off some of his excitement or perhaps somewhere else where he can enjoy playtime. Similarly, Mr Bristol man was so busy thinking about his rights to freely listen to the music of his choice but failed to consider the right of his neighbours to enjoy their garden in peace and quiet and free from the warbling of some Canadian crooner.

That’s what earphones are for!

Apparently, one of the complaints of the Bristol man, Archie’s parents and supporters is that they believed they lived in a free society but felt that they in fact did not. The reality of course is that they are lucky enough to live in a society where laws have been passed to protect the rights of citizens. Those rights however apply to all, including the right to live a life free from noise that is hazardous to health.

Noise accounts for most of the complaints that local councils and the Environment Agency receive about environmental pollution because it is a major source of stress.  The law defines a nuisance as “an unlawful interference with a person’s use or enjoyment of land or of some right over, or in connection, with it”.  Local authorities have a duty to deal with statutory nuisances. For noise to amount to a statutory nuisance, it must be prejudicial to health or a nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 [see Section 79(1) (g) of the EPAQ]. Where noise is found to be in breach of the act, an Abatement Notice can be served on the person responsible for producing it. The notice may require the noise to be stopped or limited to certain times of the day and can be appealed within 21 days.

The HSE, government bodies, the legal systems and other institutions were formed to protect the rights of all citizens to live in a safe environment free from danger, crime, persecution or pollution.  Each subscribes to its own and some times each other’s protocols to fulfil its remit to provide an indiscriminate service that should not be parodied, distilled or reinterpreted by the few who have no moral compass, regard or respect for the rights of others nor should it be used as the cover for the misguided nor those who are weak of character and or judgement.

 But that’s just my opinion. Who you choose to support is up to you.

Have a peaceful Sunday. 🙂

“Music is the food of love…but don’t disturb the neighbours”

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    This was Informative ,and I felt the Pain factor on everyone’s behalf quite funny as well Regarding Resident possibly be deserving of a fine for his Musical preference .certainly some “Job’s Worth’s ” out there .
    And Idiotic folk with no common sense I have to shake my Head at the Flapjack story .

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