R.I.P. common sense - killed by Elf n' Safety zealots who tested wonky gravestones

We are all agreed that Health and safety in certain workplaces is important.

It is much needed in a work environment such as a building site or a mine.

Most Western European countries and those of North America probably have some equivalent of Britain's Health And Safety At Work Act 1974 that led to the creation of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

However, other countries probably don't take Elf n' Safety as far as Britain.

Elf n' Safety on a building site is one thing, but what about Elf n' Safety in a cemetery?

One elderly lady got a shock when she decided to go and tend to her husband's grave at a cemetery in Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

She discovered that the grave had been speared by a stake and had a sign next to it that read: 'WARNING!' This Memorial is Unsafe. Should not be tampered with. Essential maintenance required.'

And this was not the only grave that had been effected. Many others in the cemetery also had warnign signs next to them warning people not to touch in case they meet their comeuppance if the gravestone falls over!

Even climbing ladders is deemed too dangerous by the Elf n' Safety zealots, with many workers up and down the country having to attend "working at height" courses, which tell you how to climb ladders in safety, at a cost, in some areas, of 230.

The lunatics have really taken over the asylum.

The Daily Mail's Quentin Letts, who is hosting a Panorama show tonight all about the ludicrous Elf n' Safety culture, reveals more...

R.I.P. common sense - killed by the Elf n' Safety zealots who've spent 2.5m testing wonky gravestones

20th April 2009
Daily Mail


Widow Mavis Field was intending to trim the grass around her first husband's grave when she received a terrible shock.

As she approached the grave in Worksop, Notts, she could see it had been speared by a long wooden stake.

Its carved headstone had been strapped by heavy-duty bindings and a garish, yellow sticker slapped alongside.

'WARNING!' it read. 'This Memorial is Unsafe. Should not be tampered with.
Essential maintenance required.'

Retired driving instructor Mrs Field, who 'shed a tear or two' that day, is one of thousands of bereaved Britons trampled underfoot by our increasingly controversial Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Her husband's grave had been 'tampered with' (to use their own terminology) by the local council on HSE advice about safety in municipal graveyards.

The Worksop cemetery now looks like something from a Dracula film, row upon row of tombstones desecrated by stakes.

I came across Mrs Field while making a Panorama documentary about our health and safety culture - a culture some people say has gone mad. Is this accusation fair?

Or is health and safety an important guard against the industrial deaths which once blighted Britain?

If you read the parliamentary debates which preceded the 1974 Health And Safety At Work Act that led to the creation of the HSE, you will find MPs were concerned mainly with heavy industry such as mining and pharmaceuticals.

One phrase is repeated. Safety measures should be introduced, it says, where 'reasonably practicable'.

But is that caveat of practicability still being observed by today's growing cadre of well-paid health and safety consultants?

We looked at some of the notorious Press stories about health and safety.

Not all of these turned out to be true, but there was nothing fictitious about cemeteries such as the one at Worksop, where tombstones were 'topple-tested' by dropping a heavy weight on them and seeing if they moved.

Those which so much as wobbled under the 'topple-tester' were staked, strapped, sometimes completely flattened.

The HSE has since withdrawn its original advice on graveyard hazards, but that hasn't stopped councils persisting with the practice.

Panorama found that councils have spent at least 2.5 million on ' toppletesting' graves to see if they are safe.

'There are people who have had to pay over 1,000 to fix headstones that had nothing whatsoever wrong with them,' said Worksop's Labour MP, John Mann. 'This is a job creation scheme, totally unnecessary.'

When we put that to the local authority, the councillor in charge came up with the line: 'We didn't have the luxury of adopting a commonsense way of doing it.'

He argued that 'the guidelines' offered no room for leeway.

I pointed out that the HSE guidelines had been withdrawn.

'You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't,' he murmured - proof that once a safety guideline is issued, it tends to stay issued.

Former Times editor Sir Simon Jenkins is chairman of the National Trust, whose parks and country houses demand a forest of safety signs.

'Victims of an accident nowadays have it somehow hard-wired into them that someone must be at fault,' Sir Simon told us.

'They've got used to the thought that there might be some money in it. The combination of fault, blame and money is toxic.'

Sir Simon first realised something was awry when his local Guy Fawkes night party in North London was banned. 'They said you can't have bonfires, people might immolate themselves. I just thought, this is spoiling public life as we know it. 'I'm
entirely in favour of safety. It is silly to say that people should take terrible risks. But the concept of common sense has vanished.'

He added that there is 'now a large cohort of people whose job it is to go around over-assessing risk. They will always say, oh, if you spend enough money frequently on me, I'll get you permission to have your event.'

This is something we have encountered at our tiny village church in Herefordshire.

Diocesan safety 'experts' have demanded we erect safety railings both outside the church and leading from the altar down two steps to the nave.

A 17th-century rood screen may have to have a modern handle drilled into its flank. Our church has stood for hundreds of years and there is no record of a single worshipper being injured in a post-communion wine stupor. The cost of the recommended work? Some 1,000. Madness.

Even when accidents do occur, the concept of an 'act of God' seems no longer to exist. Perhaps this is because secularism is fashionable among bureaucrats or maybe it is the inevitable dynamics of a system in which no one - certainly no leading politician - is prepared to argue that risk is desirable.

Individuals often want to drive faster or climb higher, but officialdom recoils from risk, seeing only problems. Officialdom feels it is in loco parentis of everyone, including adults.

Petty health and safety rulings also bring into disrepute the name of necessary safety measures. At major construction sites, heavy equipment and long drops make precautions vital. Six people a month still die on building sites.

I interviewed Barbara and Bernard Burke, whose son Steven, a 17-year-old karate champion, fell to his death while working in a 60ft-high sewage tank.

The Burkes know, to their cost, that health and safety on some sites is not everything it could be.

Union leader Alan Ritchie pointed out that his industry has the highest number of deaths, yet in recent years the HSE has failed to maintain the numbers of its inspection teams.

Has the HSE instead concentrated too much on less urgent concerns such as noise regulations? Two years ago 175 men received industrial benefit payments for work-related deafness - in jobs such as mining and energy supply.

Not one of them worked in the music business. Nonetheless, new rules on average maximum decibel counts (85 decibels - roughly the level of a loud conversation) have been introduced by the HSE for our theatres and musical venues.

Musicians call it an artistic intrusion. Arts administrators say it could mean turning down the volume when audiences actively want a noisy night out. Again, how can this make sense? Does it really serve the life-and-death work of industrial safety?

There are warning signs everywhere on our streets today. It's a surprise we don't have a nervous breakdown just going to the shops.

The very multiplicity of signs reduces their potency. And the same is surely true of the whole health and safety culture. The more we are lectured about questionable hazards, the less we will listen to genuinely important safety advice.

Some farmers are driven to their wits' end by health and safety paperwork. We spoke to an arable farmer in East Anglia who said his paperwork had increased fivefold in the past 10 years. Scared of retributions, the farmer remained anonymous.

It was the same with a small builder in Herefordshire. He receives so many health and safety leaflets from various arms of government that he is simply unable to find time to read them all, let alone remember and enact them on site every day.

This builder, who has not had a serious accident in more than a decade as an employer, would not let us film his face because he did not want the HSE or other safety inspectors 'coming after' him.

The demands on small business are time consuming and expensive. Employees who use ladders in their work are subject to the 'working at height' directive, a document which left Brussels at a few pages but mushroomed to 27 pages by the time Whitehall had finished with it.

Ladder awareness training courses are now recommended by the HSE.

In the spirit of inquiry, I attended a day-long course in Hornchurch, Essex. That'll be 230, thank you, for learning how to recognise a ladder, climb a ladder, store a ladder and, most important, condemn an unsafe ladder (good news for the ladder industry, at least).

Ladders must have their movements and daily checks recorded. This means more pieces of paper, more risk assessments, yet more expense for the employer.

The enterprising fellow who ran the course could have talked about ladders for a week. Gripped as he was by safety mania, mind you, he managed to bump his head on the ceiling at one point. As we left, he waved us off while sucking deep on a cigarette. So much for the 'health' part of 'health and safety'!

The health and safety boom could result in people not bothering to buy insurance.

According to Dominic Clayden, claims director at Norwich Union insurance: 'The cost of insurance will go up and ultimately, as we've seen with motor insurance, some people potentially are priced out of the market and will choose not to insure.'

He criticised ' ambulance chasers' from the margins of the legal world - the 'claims farmers' who encourage people to sue under no-win, no-fee arrangements introduced in 1999.

For every 60p Norwich Union pays to an injured person, it pays 40p to lawyers. In smaller value claims, it is 'pretty common' to see more going to the lawyer than to the injured person.

When Mr Clayden talks to European insurers about British no-win, no-fee rules, 'they think it is mad, they laugh at me'.

The current health and safety mania is surely one farce we could do without.

Safety at work has a legitimate role. Industrial deaths must be kept to a minimum. But there's a deal to be done here.

Unless we resist pointless meddling, unless we start taking more responsibility for ourselves, safety will become a joke. A truly dangerous joke.

Panorama: May Contain Nuts, BBC1 tonight, 8.30pm.

The problem isn't with health and safety committees and/or legislation. It lies in our increasingly litigious society. If somebody knows that a grave marker is unstable and does nothing to warn people, they may as well bend over, if it falls on somebody.
L Gilbert
Yup. Beware the nanny-state!!

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