Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad

Ben Mitchell looks at the madness of the tabloid and Tory-led government overreaction to the slew of irrational "health and safety gone mad" headlines.

You don’t have to be a tabloid reader to get in a lather at the mere mention of the words “health and safety”… but it certainly helps. For years now, the populist press have regaled us with tales as comical as restaurants refusing to hand out post-meal toothpicks to their diners, the calling off of Gloucestershire’s wonderfully English cheese rolling race, and most recently, Butlins banning ‘intentional bumping’ on the dodgems.

Some of these, and others, made it into last week’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) top 10 “bizarre bans”, gleefully picked up and redistributed by Chris Grayling, the employment minister. And to think he almost became home secretary.

Never mind a slow news day, these are the kind of stories you’d expect to read about on a no news day. Yet, the tabloids have gorged on them with a sense of delight and excitement at another chance to expose meddling bureaucrats and society’s lack of ‘common sense’.

Bewilderment at the papers, however, would be a better response. Whipping the public into a frenzy seems to be the one of the only reasons the tabloids exist anymore. Devoting such a disproportionate amount of time to something which, if we’re honest, wouldn’t make it into anyone’s top 100 list (let alone top 10) of “most important issues facing Britain” in 2011.

Therefore, why does it dominate so many newspaper column inches, and provoke such hostility, such irrationality?

One theory points to papers such as the Daily Mail and their never-ending crusade to romanticise a Britain we could once cherish and be proud of, but has now been hijacked by pernicious forces, determined to wreck what was once great about this island; “a traditional, nostalgic aspect of British life is threatened by modern, mindless bureaucracy.”

It also feeds in to right wing loathing and mistrust of the all pervasive ‘nanny state’, sticking its nose in where it’s not wanted.

Last year’s appointment of Lord Young, charged with carrying out a review of health and safety in law and practice, shows how health and safety has been catapulted from tabloid fodder to direct government intervention, with the prime minister personally taking an interest. The recommendations were published last October.

But, beyond the clamour to rage against interfering ‘jobsworths’ and ‘overzealous’ officials, this overshadows the very real progress health and safety regulations have made in the workplace. The HSE credits the Health and Safety at Work Act with an 84 per cent reduction in employee fatalities between 1974 and 2010, as well as a 75% fall in non-fatal injuries.

A change in patterns of employment has also helped in bringing down fatal injuries as people have moved from manufacturing and heavy work industries to areas of work with lower risk. The types of injuries and illnesses people pick up has therefore evolved: stress and back complaints, for example, have become more commonplace.

Nevertheless, the TUC reports there are still as many as 20,000 deaths a year caused by work. Last year Left Foot Forward reported only a fraction of deaths and workplace injuries ever came to the attention of the HSE, with it now only investigating a third of safety offences compared to more than a decade ago – the results of deregulation legislation had ‘emasculated’ the organisation, meaning a business can now expect to be visited once every 38 years.

All this will soon be made worse by, you guessed it, government cuts. A 35% cut to its budget will mean HSE inspections being reduced by a further third, despite the fact a review of worldwide evidence by Dr Courtney Davis of Sussex University found inspection and enforcement are associated with a 22% decline in injury rates over the next three years.

The danger with parts of the media’s obsession with the trivial and the farcical is the whole health and safety industry suffers. The constant attacks and undermining make it a ripe target for cuts. After all, who’s going to object to taking on an organisation that spoils peoples’ fun for a living?

According to TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, Lord Young’s report did nothing to dispel the “myths and preconceptions surrounding health and safety”. Instead it uncritically accepted them, whilst neglecting to offer “a single proposal that will reduce the high levels of workplace death, injuries and illness”.

Thus, a wasted opportunity. This, together with the ‘bizarre bans’ list, must be music to tabloid ears, safe in the knowledge they can continue to unearth ever wackier and outlandish examples of ‘elf & safety gaaan maaaaad’.

32 Responses to “Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad”

  1. Michael Bater

    RT @leftfootfwd: Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad http://t.co/xIAW3WQ

  2. Shakey

    “@leftfootfwd Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad: http://t.co/OSE4fan” This is very important please read

  3. Beat S. Paradise

    http://t.co/XyQKmsB << Yes but sometimes accidents happen. You can't restrict everything until they stop happening!

  4. Shamik Das

    Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad: http://t.co/nDlIOqr

  5. HSE Indonesia

    RT @shamikdas RT @leftfootfwd: Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad: http://t.co/cYDpJ50

  6. Ben Mitchell

    RT @leftfootfwd: Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad http://t.co/4T3BqQG

  7. Political Planet

    Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad: Ben Mitchell looks at the madness of the tabloid and Tory-led government … http://t.co/lUTEI14

  8. Michael

    Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad l Left Foot Forward – http://t.co/PZ9JtdJ

  9. Andy Bean

    Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad l Left Foot Forward – http://t.co/PZ9JtdJ

  10. obreptionpersonified

    Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad l Left Foot Forward – http://t.co/PZ9JtdJ

  11. Pauline

    Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad l Left Foot Forward – http://t.co/PZ9JtdJ

  12. Workplace Safety Guy

    Grayling's tabloid pandering gone mad – Left Foot Forward http://t.co/1gitm84

  13. Robert

    But like it or not you can make as much fun about it as you like they actually affected our lives. I had my wheelchair ramp removed because the post man might fall over it, I was stuck in my home until the council paid 12,000 for a new ramp, which was the same as my old ramp.

    The park closed because the concrete was the wrong type, so they closed the park and it’s still closed.

    It might be funny to the Labour people who think Blair and Brown did wonders the fact is health and safety is now a money maker for lawyers companies.

    I when I was a kid broke my leg playing football, so my local council wanted to make football a non contact game . Cricket had to be with a soft ball until kids were sixteen, rugby had to be touch. As I said I broke my leg when I was a child it hurt but after six week I was up and running again, now of course a broken leg is seen as being a major incident and you go see a lawyer.

    Health and safety would have been great in the work place, but in life oh god no.

  14. Amanda Kendal

    My understanding of recent remark is that Grayling had said that H&Slegislation was not th problem, but that miss-application of the rules was. This is in part down to fear of litigation.

    Robert partly gets this – the litigation bit, anyway. But there is no H&S rule about football being a non-contact game, just as there are no rules about conkers being banned either.

    The writ happy culture we have imported from the US is NOT the same as the rules themselves. And even if you ot rid of every H&S rule. In the book, it would not change that culture, which is something entirely different that needs addressing.

    And if I remember correctly, in saying that the H&S rules themselves were not the problem, Grayling actually contradicted his leader, who had already told us that H&S was one of the causes of ‘Broken Britain’. Which is rather more in keeping with tabloid hysteria.

  15. Ed's Talking Balls

    ‘Devoting such a disproportionate amount of time to something which, if we’re honest, wouldn’t make it into anyone’s top 100 list (let alone top 10) of “most important issues facing Britain” in 2011.’

    Sounds exactly like The Guardian’s coverage of Andy Coulson over the last few years.

    The truth about health and safety is that, while it clearly is important, things must be put in perspective. Small businesses shouldn’t be choked by excessive regulation and small children shouldn’t have their fun ruined by petty and needless rules. Government needs to strike the right balance.

  16. John Lever

    Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad http://t.co/JlG7RJE

  17. Leon Wolfson

    Yes, which for businesses is FAR, FAR stricter than today, with a tenfold increase in inspections being quite reasonable. The fines from major breaches will quickly pay for it.

    Many businesses are outright ignoring basic regulations regarding monitors, breaks from staring at monitors, appropriate adjustable chairs…

    Misapplications of the law outside business also need to be struck down.

  18. Mr. Sensible

    Couldn’t agree more, Ben.

    I’m afraid I am not in the least bit surprised to see either the tabloids simply making this stuff up, or the government pandering to it; Cameron seems to have made a bit of a habbit in several areas of obandoning modern conservatism in favour of pandering to the Daily Mail and the rest.

    And Ed, Andy Coulson has made it in to vertually all the media apart from guess who? for very good reason.

  19. Kath

    Agree in principle, but I think you’ve missed the point a bit. This list was released by the HSE to illustrate how health and safety is being wrongly cited as a reason for ridiculous bans. As the HSE have pointed out, there were NO valid health and safety reasons for any of the bans listed.

  20. chris

    Health and safety rules are not the problem, it’s the frivolous claims that some make to earn some unjustified “compo”. Judges should be allowed to award punitive costs against frivolouse cases brought before them.

  21. Ben Mitchell

    An often cited complaint (from schools or local authorities for example) you hear about anecdotally comes from insurance companies pressurising them into making sure all bases are covered with regards to health and safety. i.e. if you’ve not taken adequate steps to ensure a safe environment, we won’t back you if something goes wrong. Rather than the risk of not having them pay out, some chose to cancel an event, for example.

  22. Tim Worstall

    “The HSE credits the Health and Safety at Work Act with an 84 per cent reduction in employee fatalities between 1974 and 2010, as well as a 75% fall in non-fatal injuries.”

    Bureaucracy claims it is doing a good job.

    Film at 11

  23. Kyle Grayson

    RT @leftfootfwd: As many as 20,000 deaths p/a in UK caused by work yet Tories seek to slash health & safety http://t.co/fgcpe06

  24. Leon Wolfson

    What a surprise, right wingers claiming they don’t give a shit about how man workers are killed or injured, if it limits profits.

    Film at… get back to work you lazy !&^%! peon’s

  25. Jonathan Taylor

    Good defence of health & safety legislation RT @leftfootfwd: Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad: http://t.co/OIYCF9g

  26. Linda Rothstein

    Another gem from my friend Ben! RT @leftfootfwd: Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad http://t.co/71M8gIa

  27. Linda Rothstein

    Another gem from my friend Ben! RT @leftfootfwd: Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad http://t.co/71M8gIa

  28. William J Shaw

    Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad http://ht.ly/6fKKI

  29. Accidents at the Health and Safety Executive

    […] yesterday) were exceedingly cross with the Government about the HSE press release – “Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad “, and tried to whip up a frenzy about alleging that tabloid papers were whipping up a […]

  30. Grayling dragged into Fox/Werritty scandal – are Osborne, Gove and Hague next? | Left Foot Forward

    […] Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad – Ben Mitchell, August 29th […]

  31. Shamik Das

    David Ruffley MP churns out the usual tabloid myths abt regulation & red tape… C http://t.co/HhdFjEJE

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