Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Health and safety and the Daily Mail

A couple of days ago I pointed you to a posting where David Boyle wrote about the concern with health and safety. He suggested that it had the effect of making us less safe and was a good example of how big government can be self-defeating.

In a comment on that post "James" pointed us to a link that showed that what the Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Telegraph had described as Institution of Occupational Safety and Health guidance was in fact the opinion of an individual contributor to the Institute's magazine.

James concluded: "David may have a point but he needs to back it up with some real examples", which is fair comment.

The trouble is that too many Liberal Democrats regard showing that the Daily Mail is wrong as the end of the debate.

Take a posting on the same subject by Mark Pack on Lib Dem Voice. (I am sorry to pick on Mark- there have been many similar posts over recent months.)

Mark wrote about the same story, but to him the only point of interest was that the two newspapers had misrepresented the Institute's advice. But surely there is more to it than that?

Because when you read the Institute's guidance (which Mark helpfully reproduces) it turns out to be something less than the call for neighbourliness which the Institute's website represents it as:
Deciding whether to grit beyond the boundaries of their property needs to be carefully considered by companies. If access to the premises is covered in ice, companies may choose to grit the access to help their staff and visitors arrive and leave safely, even though it’s not their property. However, in this instance, if they failed to grit the surface properly and someone had an accident as a result, then they could incur some liability.

As a general rule, though, it’s sensible for firms to consider the risks and take reasonable steps to prevent accidents from happening. If this means gritting outside the boundaries of your workplace, then it’s better to do that than to have people slipping over or involved in car crashes on your doorstep.
Mark has nothing to say about this. All he wants to do is complain about the Mail.

Let us take is as read that the Daily Mail is awful. There still remains a much more important and interesting question to debate.

What is the Liberal Democrat attitude to health and safety? Do we think that the government (though it is not the only influence here) has got things about right? Or do we (like me) hold a view more like David Boyle's, which suggests that the Labour attempt to regulate everything is bound to be counterproductive?

This constant complaining about the Mail is a form of political group grooming. Look how ridiculous the people who disagree with us are! How sensible we are in comparison! Why, they even supported Oswald Mosley!

I suspect that, like the constant bien-pensant complaints about the Sun in the 1980s, the modern hatred of the Daily Mail disguised more than a drop of hidden snobbery.

So let's stop talking about the Mail all the time and start worrying about what we think. It may be harder work, but it will a lot more rewarding.


Mark Pack said...

To be fair Jonathan, I've blogged about snow and clearing several times so in the post you quoted I didn't repeat all that I've said at other times.

The other posts have talked about rather more than just the Mail, but yes - the one about the Mail and Telegraph talks about, er..., the Mail and Telegraph :-)

I'd summarise my views as "people and firms should take simple steps to help make life easier for others and if they do so without malice they shouldn't face a legal risk".

The attitude of the Mail and others is, I think, highly relevant because (a) scare stories help put people and firms off, and (b) firms - who take and balance risks all the time - have been given a soft ride in the media. I've not seen any story, for example, interviewing the spokesperson from a high street chain asking why they don't clear outside their shops.

On health and safety more generally, I would like to see wider use of the principle that you can do something without liability as long as you don't act with malice and give reasonable warnings. (Not sure how much that requires a change in law rather than a chance in practice). In other words, if people are aware of the risks then let them judge for themselves what to do.

crewegwyn said...

Surely on this - as on other civil and crminal matters - there is a test of reasonableness.

I live in a street of 3 houses.

Jim at No.1 is brilliant - when snow arrives he's out with the rock salt, shovel and/or broom as appropriate and clears the pavement (as well as his drive). And does a brilliant job.

I'm at No.2 and I'm too busy / lazy / incompetent to do what Jim does. So I leave it as it falls.

At No.3 lives 'hammer happy' - we call him that because he's constantly doing jobs - enthusiastically, and very badly. When it snows he is out with a shovel, lifts off the top layer but leaves half an inch or so behind which - with all his enthusiastic padding about - turns into a sheet of compacted icy snow.

Now, when the professional footballer who lives round the corner comes for his morning walk the sequence goes :

Outside No.1 - no problem
Outside No.2 - so long as he's careful, no problem. Nice soft snow, not really a hazard
Outside No.3 - slips and breaks his leg.

So the question is - should he (or his employers?) be allowed to sue 'hammer happy' for being stupid in creating a hazard.
Note, no malice on HH's part. Just (reckless?) stupidity.