Archive for the ‘Health and Safety’ Category


Thursday, August 13th, 2009

I did a half day course yesterday. As a result, I’m requalified as a defibrillator operator!

The ones we’re trained on aren’t as dramatic as the ones you see on “ER” – it’s a little blue box with two sticky pads that you stick to the patient’s chest, it auto-analyses them and will only let you give them a shock if they would benefit from it. There’s no chance of accidentally making the situation worse – if they’re in a state of health where the machine will let you shock, its already as bad as it can get.

As our instructor said, the only way you can hurt someone with one of these is to hit them over the head with it.

There are a few things to look out for – heavy necklaces need to be moved out of the way, and nipple piercings may need to be cut off, if they’re too big. But the best thing we were told to watch out for is medical patches – nicotine patches, slow release drugs etc. Apprently under the right circumstances, if you shock someone wearing one of these, they can explode!

Wanna try out my skillz, now…

Common Sense

Monday, July 20th, 2009

The following “Guide to Common Sense” was posted by the excellent Ron Hunter on the Health and Safety discussion website…

a.Beware the natural environment, the open spaces, the trees, the rocks, the water-courses and the shoreline – all these present hazards to the unwary, above, below and all around you. The natural environment was there first, and it wasn’t designed exclusively for us. It will remain long after we are all gone, and has great capacity to hurt you.

b.The beasts of the field have teeth and claws and sucking mouth parts and can cause you great harm.

c.Teeny tiny things that you can’t even see can also do you great harm, and they were also here first.

d.Watch out for the weather- the heat, the strong sunlight, the cold, the damaging wind, persistent rain, the icy conditions underfoot – all can do you harm, so take care!

e.Learning to swim is generally a very good thing.

f.Gravity is (for most of us) a constant. On the plus side, it keeps us on the ground. On the minus side, if we fall or trip, the ground is always going to be our final, potentially painful, destination – unless something equally hard and painful stops us first. Always respect Gravity. Gravity always wins. Some might say that gravity sucks.

g.People are allowed to sell you goods and services that are bad for you (yes, it is odd that they’re called ‘goods’) and you are allowed to buy them. Other people may try to sell you other things that REALLY aren’t good for you and they will continue to do that until a nice Policeman stops them. Either way, it’s your choice.

h.You shouldn’t really hurt other people, or yourself. The more people who stick to this rule, the better it will be for all of us.

i.In this Country we drive & cycle on the left. No. Your other left.

j.Speed Limits are just that –limits, not targets.

k.In general, roads are for cars and pavements are for pedestrians. This rule also applies to white vans and 4x4s.

l.Sometimes, cyclists are allowed to use the pavement, on the other side of a big white line. Only walk on the other side of that line. (No – the other side)

m.If you look out from the window of your house and you can see more than one other house, you don’t really need a 4×4.

n.If you’re driving or cycling, watch out for other drivers and for people walking. The people walking have right of way. Really try to abide by Rule h. here.

o.If you’re walking, look out for all the things & people that are bigger, heavier and going faster than you are.

p.Your capacity to abide by other rules will be greatly reduced if you are inebriated (remember rule g.) or are distracted by gadgets like mobile phones, personal stereos, Sat-Navs or implanted sub-dermal /retinal scanning information and entertainment systems. Remember Rule h, and also remember that the nice Policeman sometimes has to sometimes stop being nice.

q.If you get lost really easily, avoid places like Milton Keynes and Cumbernauld.

r.Fire burns. So does electricity. Both can kill you very quickly. Treat these things with great respect.

s.If a sign says something like “wet paint”, “danger” or “keep out” then we’ve every confidence you can figure the rest out for yourself.

t.The built environment, our machines, comforts and conveniences were all built by people for people. They all have to be properly looked after. If that’s your job, please ensure this is done. We can all play a part by not breaking any of it, and by letting other people know when something is broken.

u.Don’t use things that are broken or damaged. Don’t use anything that you have no idea or can’t remember how to use properly.

v.Look before you leap. Even better, don’t leap. Remember what we told you about Gravity.

w.Count to 10 before you answer a difficult question, or before you press “send”. If it’s a really tricky one, count some more.

x.If you have a job, you should do what your boss tells you to do, unless this would break any of the above rules.

y.Teach your children well. Your children are your responsibility – look after them.

z.Yes, we know it was sad when Bambi’s Mother died. Remember, despite everyone’s best efforts, life isn’t always fair.

Can’t argue with any of that (except perhaps (m)! )


Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

We had a fire at work today.

Total building evacuation, loads of firefighters swarming all over the place, smoke, you name it. OK, it was only a burned-out water heater in the basement that set off the smoke detectors, but it still counts. As Chief Fire Warden for our two floors, I was the last of us out of the building – and as that meant escorting someone on crutches down seven flights of stairs, I have to say I was in there for a bit longer than I was comfortable with. There’s a learning point there, and we have to look at how we deal with that situation. My favourite is for me NOT to be the last out, but I suspect that bit of the plan isn’t going to change.

With everyone – including me – safely out, our fire wardens have a secondary duty: Our assembly point is in a small park with roads all around, and we have to marshall the people to stop them getting run over. With 450 people and a small park, that’s quite a challenge – 20% want to get back into the office, 15% are thinking of sneaking off for a fag and another 15% are wondering if they can get away with going to the pub. The remainder are queuing for a cup of tea in Mungo’s Tea Caravan, oblivious to the fact that there’s no going to the loo until the fire brigade let us back in the building.

I think after an hour of that, I’m now fully qualified to herd cats.


Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

I spent last night in a hotel in the West Midlands.

I was delivering one of my world-renowned Health and Safety training sessions in the hotel this morning, y’see, so they put me up there last night. It was pretty nice – although a twenty-five quid taxi ride from anywhere – and in my explorings I found a safe in the wardrobe. It was a pretty standard hotel room safe, about the size of a shoe box with a set-it-yourself combination and a set of simple instructions. I took a photo to show you…


But hang on…lets have a closer look at those instructions…


Now I may be guilty of a lack of imagination here…but under what circumstances can a shoebox-sized safe present a suffocation risk?

Learning Zone

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

I’ve started learning again :-)

I mentioned ages ago that I was thinking of studying again, and was considering some sort of environmental management qualification – these days, health and safety people are expected to have some environmental and quality management knowledge in their armoury. I used to be a quality manager so I could blag that if needed, but I’ve never done much environmental stuff.

The thing was, at the time I was thinking about it, there were only two occupational environmental qualifications available: A degree-level diploma, which taught you from scratch but was the equivalent amount of work to the health and safety diploma I’d just done, and was very expensive, or an open-book exam designed for experienced environmental people to prove what they knew.

But now, the examination board with whom I did the health and safety stuff have launched a certificate-level environmental qualification, which you can do by e-learning in about six months. Not only that, but if you signed up (with one training provider) before the end of May, you got a hundred quid discount!

So with the encouragement of m’dearest Purple Fred, I’ve enrolled on the course and signed up for the December exam. Progress reports to follow :-)

Worse Science

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

I’ve commented before on the rubbishness of Southampton’s local “newspaper”, the Southern Daily Echo.

And on the day I mentioned that I was reading “Bad Science” (i.e. yesterday), they neatly illustrated both their own rubbishness and the dangers of bad science reporting. Have a look at this story. So, our schools are filled with “deadly asbestos”, are they? So are most buildings dating from before the mid-nineties. Perhaps someone should tell the Echo that the schools’ central heating is driven by explosive gas (which is also an asphyxiant), and the electrical cables are stuffed to bursting with killer volts.

Even more worrying is the quote from “one leading teaching union” that “children’s lives are at risk until all asbestos is removed from schools”. The fact that the union isn’t named makes me think it’s a quote the Echo has invented, and I certainly hope so – the idea that the people responsible for the next generation’s education could come up with something so inaccurate and alarmist is the scariest part of the whole thing. We expect lazy research and hyperbole from Echo journos – but teachers are supposed to be clever (although there are stories in “Bad Science” that give the lie to that, as well).

Asbestos fibres floating free in air are dangerous: if inhaled they’re small enough to breach the body’s natural defences and penetrate to the lungs, where they can cause mesothelioma. Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) such as asbestos cement – which is almost certainly the form most of the asbestos in school buildings takes – are safe as long as they’re undamaged, and the safest thing to do is leave them in place, and inspect regularly to make sure they’re undamaged. Even if they are damaged, it’s far safer to repair and re-seal than remove.

Still, I don’t suppose that would sell many papers.


Saturday, May 16th, 2009

I had an adventure today…I went to London on the train! Not something I do every day, and…

Eh? What?

Oh yes…it is something I do every day. But at least, it being the weekend, I was able to travel first class for £2-50 each way, which meant comfortable seats, a tray table big enough to spread out on, peace and quiet, and a mains socket to charge the PDA so I could catch up on some work.

The purpose of today’s visit was to go to a committee meeting of a charity I support, to offer some advice on their new Health and Safety policy. They already had the bones of one in place so we were more or less there in an hour, and I was free to leave…

Needless to say, I scored a cache on the way back to Waterloo! I’ve tried for The South Bank Lion several times when work has brought me to this part of the Nation’s Capital…and today, Bingo!

And next to Waterloo I spotted this sign, which I’d never seen before…



Friday, May 15th, 2009

So – to the National Health and Safety Expo at the NEC. I scored a geocache just outside the NEC…

Sidetracked – Birmingham International

…spotted some amusing spelling mistakes such as this one…


(there was also a book called “Affective Health and Safety Management”, but as the author and publisher were standing proudly next to it, I thought photographing their smelling pistake might be seen as taking the mickey).

I did get a pic of this rather ill-thought-out trademark, though.


I even spoke to some interesting people and scored some worthwhile freebies – including a book that normally retails for thirty quid!

A Bit Frustrating

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

One of the proactive bits of my job is issuing health and safety guidance, relevant to the issues of the day.

I’ve spent the last couple of days writing a guidance note about Swine Flu, and a pretty frustrating experience it’s been: the process is something like –

  1. Read World Health Organisation and NHS Direct websites, and a couple of others I like, and distil relevant information
  2. Write guidance note, taking care to make it sufficiently interesting that people will read it, accurate enough that no-one’s going to tell me I’m talking cobblers, and clear enough that the pedants don’t take the piss mickey
  3. Check back against the websites mentioned above in case official guidance has been updated in the time it took to write the guidance note
  4. Re-write the guidance note
  5. Repeat parts three and four until you get fed up and issue the darned thing anyway.

No wonder they call it Swine Flu – just writing about it is a pig of a job.


Friday, March 20th, 2009

Back on Pancake Day, a friend of mine had a text from a friend of his: “Will you come and help with our charity pancake race? You’ll be ideal as we have the ingredients and the chef, all we need is a tosser”.

They should have seen this, but that’s another story.

If they’re still looking for tossers, I can recommend number 17 bus drivers employed by WorstBus Southampton: I know I’ve ranted a-plenty about Worst in the past, but more recently I’ve come to realise that for some reason the route 17 are significantly worse than the others. When a bus is amazingly late, fails to turn up at all, or cruises past a waiting queue without stopping, chances are it will be a 17.

This particular rant was inspired when the other night – being already an hour late through having been delayed in London – I was waiting for the bus home from Southampton station. A number 17 arrived – ten minutes late, which is almost early by Worst standards. It stopped, one person got off and one on, then the driver announced
“No more room”
“Whaddya mean? There’s loads of room.”
“If I say there’s no more room, there’s NO MORE ROOM.”

The door slammed shut and the bus was on its way, leaving seven would-be passengers staring open-mouthed after it.

What’s really frustrating…apart from being left staring at the back of a bus that you’d rather have liked to be on…is that there’s no recourse for complaint: WorstBus ignore all letters sent to them, and the councillors responsible for public transport don’t care because they never really ride on busses. And I’ve got an annual season ticket for WorstBus, so whether they take me home or not, they’ve got my money :-(

Luckily, in this case, the number 8 was also running ten minutes late, so it arrived shortly afterwards. And this one DID stop.

Healthy Friends

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

We had a Health and Safety meeting today :-)

Not an unusual situation you might think, given what I do for a living, and it’s the seventh since I’ve been here. What I’m still surprised by, every time, is how friendly they are. At my last workplace, meetings took three or four hours, most of which was filled with union reps whinging about not being given the information they needed to be able to do their jobs – information which the Data Protection Act stopped us giving them without their own members’ permission.

Today’s meeting was over in fifty minutes, including videoconference to four remote location, one of which had the chairman. Oh yes – at these meetings I don’t have to be the chairman or take the minutes, so I can focus on being the health and safety person. There’s a thing! We get a free lunch too!

And one the walk to work this morning I found West End Trail – Sewer Gardens, which completes this series of three London caches for me. I hope there are going to be more of them – nice little caches and thoughtfully placed.

Is It Me?

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

In our London office, we decided quite a while ago that as few people as possible would know in advance about fire drills.

This was for two reasons: first we wanted to be sure that people were responding genuinely. If there’s a real fire and fire wardens are goiong to take five minutes to get back to their desks and collect their hi-viz jackets and their radios, we’d rather know about it in advance. If they know about the drill, they’re only human, and they’ll make sure they’re near their desks.

The other reason is that if people know there’s a fire drill at quarter to twelve, there’s going to be a spate of early lunches that day and it’ll be me, the fire wardens and the office cat doing the drill.

So I was a bit narked when the landlords sent an email round the other day, not only telling us when the fire drill was going to be, but calling a briefing meeting for fire wardens half an hour before! I may as well send round an “all staff” e-mail saying “Would everyone please meet at the fire assembly point at 11:47″. Which of course is exactly what would happen in a real fire.

Strangely reminiscent of an episode of “Fawlty Towers”. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so serious :-(


Friday, December 5th, 2008

Did anyone see the Fun Police -a so-called documentary about health and safety professionals – on Channel 4 last night?

I didn’t, I was doing an important phone call at the time, but it’s been fairly heavily discussed in the health and safety chatrooms so I think I’ve got a fairly good idea what it was like: Daily Mail-esque anti-H+S lampooning in the first half, and a bit better and more sincere in part two. I wish there’d been a bit more of how the programme finished, with a Health and Safety Executive officer telling how he had to discuss the details of a fatal workplace accident with a bereaved family, followed by a statement that that’s the sort of thing that health and safety professionals work to prevent.

Apparently the H+S person who featured in most of it – who, for whatever reason, isn’t a member of the Health + Safety professional body – didn’t do himself any favours, playing up to the stereotype image, but a lot of that’s down to how the film was edited.

Anyway, for some reason it seems to be fun to blame the health and safety profession for all of society’s ills: banning conkers and hanging baskets, cancelled donkey derbies and pancake races and the like, in spite of the fact that these are invariably the work of people who know nothing – or worse still, a little bit – about health and safety, but are “playing it safe”. A true professional looks at how problems can be overcome so that things can go ahead, and if any of those events had sought professional advice (which is often available free to community groups), rather than asking some bloke down the pub, they’d almost certainly have gone ahead.

Can you tell I’m a bit steamed about it?


Saturday, September 27th, 2008

I passed my fire safety exam :-)

The examinations people were kind enough to phone me as soon as they had the result. Lucky too – since I’ve already got dates in the calendar for the first few workplace inspections that passing that exam qualifies me to do.

It’s a sign of the public sector way of thinking – which I haven’t quite got into the way of yet – that while I was thinking “Ooh that’s good, I’ll be able to save my employers lots of money by doing those myself”, my boss’s response was “Lucky dog, that’ll look good on your CV…and in the meantime you could get a good second income with consultancy work!”

I’m just glad I passed :-)

Float my Boat

Friday, August 15th, 2008

According to a story on the front page of today’s Metro (and also here on the BBC news website), volunteer coastguards at Hope Cove in Devon are in trouble with the Elf ‘n Safety red-tape brigade for daring to use their coastguard boat to rescue a drowning child.

The two versions of the story are so different that it’s impossible to know what really happened, but the basics seem to be that the boat had been taken out of service as it was unsafe: it may or may not have been repaired (that’s one of the differences between the versions), and was awaiting a fresh safety inspection.

The crew spotted the child being swept out to sea, and radio’d for permission to launch the out-of-service boat. Either radio contact was lost and they made their own decision, or permission was denied and they disregarded it: either way the boat was launched, a rescue effected and now the crew are in trouble. Predictably, the phrase “health and safety gone mad” is being bandied around, and locals are “up in arms”.

But hold on a moment…one thing both stories agree on is that the boat had failed a safety inspection and not yet passed a re-inspection. And the first thing that anyone with any kind of first aid, medical or rescue training learns is “don’t become the next victim”: If the rescue boat had got into trouble, the “official” rescue boat, which was already on its way, would’ve had to be diverted to help them, further delaying aid to the original victim.

The disparities between the two versions of the story don’t help in judging what’s happened: but I can’t help thinking that if this was an ambulance crew who’d used a vehicle that’d failed its MOT, or a team had flown a rescue helicopter that’d failed its airworthiness check, everything would seem so much more clear-cut.

So What…?

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

So – following on from yesterday – what do I mean by proper road safety? After all, I’ve criticised the single-issue speed fanatics – I’ve even called them “road safety nazis” – so it’s only fair that I come up with a couple of ideas.

But first – Fred commented that using the term “road safety nazis” was going a bit far, and that’s probably true. In my own defence, I’m only applying that term to the single-issue preachers who’d have us believe (despite a huge body of evidence) that if only everyone stuck to the speed limits, everything would be fine: sadly, even one of Britain’s most respected safety organisations is promoting this line. Speed is a factor, there’s no doubt – but it’s probably the least useful one to enforce, if promoting road safety is the aim.

So if I was in charge of road safety, what would I be promoting?

  1. Vehicle spacing – a large proportion of accidents, especially the huge motorway pile-ups, have their beginning in people driving so close to the car in front that if something goes wrong they can’t possibly stop in time.
  2. Distractions – A considerable body of research has shown that using a mobile phone while driving – even using a handsfree kit – has a more severe effect on concentration and reaction times than being just over the legal alcohol limit . Ban all mobile use while driving, enforce it properly, and apply stiffer penalties.
  3. Disqualified Drivers – For drink driving and a range of other offences which come under the heading of deliberate actions (excessive speed, mobile phone use, no tax or insurance etc), you lose your licence automatically. If it costs you your job, tough – you should’ve thought of that before. And anyone who drives while disqualified goes to prison.
  4. Sensible Speed Limits – One of the key reasons people speed is that they’ve no respect for speed limits: it’s well known in the accident prevention world that if you have three safety rules, and two make sense and one doesn’t, people won’t discriminate – they’ll ignore all three. The recent fad for 20MPH limits outside schools is a good example of a senseless rule: During school start and finish times, twenty is too fast, the rest of the time it’s too slow.

I’ve got loads more ideas, but these will do for now.

The Official One

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Handsome, aren’t I?

Today’s the Day

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

I’ve mentioned before how, when you work in Health and Safety, every hundred days or so you work hard enough to make up for the fact it’s better paid than it deserves to be the rest of the time. Today, as the title of today’s offering suggests, was the day.

A surprise meeting to thrash out one problem had just ended…and I was wondering whether to wander off to Starbucks Mungo’s Coffee Shoppe for a few minutes. That was when the second problem struck, and for the first time since I started this job, I took my tie off, rolled my sleeves up and got a bit dirty. I was late leaving as well, and even later getting home – thanks to the bar at Waterloo station. Well I just missed the train, you see, and had half an hour to fill…

I like being busy, but I hope tomorrow will be a bit more peaceful.


Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

Some of you may have seen a story in yesterday’s papers about fire extinguishers being removed from a residential block in Bournemouth.

The extinguishers have been removed with the backing of Dorset Fire and Rescue – people who know a bit about fighting fire, one way and another – on the grounds that they might encourage people to stay in the building and fight the fire, rather than getting out of the building and leaving fire fighting to those who are paid and trained – and properly equipped – to do it. Meanwhile, a resident – a retired printer – reckons the decision is “safety gone mad – they probably think we’re going to point the extinguisher the wrong way and shoot ourselves in the face or something”.

There’s a growing body of opinion in the Health and Safety profession that the only value of fire extinguishers in the workplace is to break the glass on the fire alarm call point, to save cutting your fingers. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, there are some workplaces such as chemical works or oil refineries where fighting fire is the safest option – but these places usually have properly trained and equipped firefighting teams. In the majority of workplaces, the safest action is always to get out.

Certainly in the workplaces where I’m responsible for fire safety, I always tell people that I don’t want to see anyone fighting fire – I’d rather we were standing safely at the fire evacuation point watching the building burn, than standing inside an intact building watching paramedics treat a badly-burned have-a-go hero. Or worse. Of course I’m slightly biased by the fact that as Fire Manager I have to be the last one out – so if some hero stays behind to tackle the fire, I have to stay with them :-( .

The retired printer quoted above went on to say that although he and his fellow residents hadn’t been trained to use the extinguishers, “you’d soon work it out if you were trapped in a burning building”. Of course you would – when you’re panicking, and maybe just been woken in the middle of the night, and the world is falling apart around you, is an ideal time to learn a new skill.

So lets see – who should I trust most, to give me fire safety advice? Dorset Fire and Rescue, or a retired printer? Votes in the comments section please!


Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

I booked Grunty’s MOT test on-line! How cool is that?

Well, probably not all that cool in the grand scheme of things, but I was impressed.

Rather less cool is the story in today’s news – in several sources – about the traditional pancake race (dating back a whole ten years) at Ripon Cathedral, which couldn’t be held this year “because of health and safety fears”. Needless to say delving into the truth of the matter – which only the Grauniad bothered to do, as far as I could see – showed that the cancellation had very little to do with health and safety: There weren’t enough participants or volunteer marshals to make it worthwhile, the council wanted a not-unreasonable £250 to close the road for the day, and yes, the insurance company wanted a risk assessment.

So there was a health and safety requirement, but hardly the “mountains of paperwork” the organisers were moaning about. I haven’t seen the location, and I wouldn’t try to do a risk assessment without, but I’d be amazed if the risk assessment for a pancake race took up more than two sides of A4. I’d be pretty surprised if they could stretch it to more than one side, but there you are. And if the organisers couldn’t find someone in the diocese competent to do a risk assessment for something so simple – and who was prepared to do it for nothing – then they weren’t trying.

It’s a shame the children’s pancake race was cancelled, whatever the reason. But don’t blame health and safety. Now pass the Jif lemon and the caster sugar, somebody.


Monday, January 21st, 2008

According to the local paper – not the most reliable source of news, but the only place I could find the story – there’s been an accident at Southampton Container Terminal over the weekend.

Regular readers will know that I applied for the Health and Safety job there last year: I didn’t get it, and after the second interview I’d decided I didn’t want it anyway. The story seems to have disappeared from the Echo website now, but while it was there it was attracting loads of comments.

These seemed to fall into three groups: Docks employees (or people claiming to be docks employees) saying “Health and Safety in the docks is parrot”; docks employees (or people claiming etc) saying “Health and Safety in the docks is first-rate” and a slightly odd side-thread comprising local residents saying “The docks would be a lot safer – and we’d have more peace – if container handling stopped between 8:00 PM and 8:00 AM”. The resultant 50% cut in throughput doesn’t seem to have occurred to them.

Of course, my experience of the docks is limited to what I learned in the presentation about the job that we were given at the first interview, and I won’t pass comment based on that. But in my wide-ranging Health and Safety experience, people who say “Health and Safety here is rubbish” – or variations on that theme – tend to be people who know perfectly well they’re breaking the rules of their workplace but don’t want to admit that any accident might be their fault. In previous jobs I’ve been told Health and Safety was rubbish by people deliberately working on unguarded electrical machinery without turning the power off first.
UPDATE: I found the story here.